|Weeklong picket at
Community meeting planned for 6:00 pm on Monday, April 8th at Minneapolis Indian Center
by Clara NiiSka
On Friday, March 29th, physicians Dr. Carol Krush and Dr. Lori Banaszak were fired from their jobs at the Indian Health Board community clinic in south Minneapolis. Both had worked at the clinic for years, Dr. Krush since the clinic opened twenty-eight years ago.
Press/ON spoke with Dr. Krush as she picketed the clinic on Wednesday, April 3rd.
Dr. Krush said that her signing the letter, “Physicians respond to IHB board of directors’ open letter,” published in Press/ON on March 22, 2002 was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” leading to her being fired for “insubordination.” When the letter came out in the paper, there was a “disciplinary meeting,” Dr. Krush said, then she “kept getting voice mails about the disciplinary meeting,” which she understood as the administration’s ‘building a record’ to justify her being fired. Late Friday afternoon, “at the end of the day,” she heard “the person at the front desk telling Penny Scheffler that I was still seeing patients.” When Dr. Krush had seen her last patient, at about 5:30, interim director Penny Scheffler and a lawyer took Dr. Krush and Dr. Banaszak to clinic administrator Dr. Terril Hart’s office, “separately. Laurie was first.” Both physicians were given their termination papers, severance checks, and told to turn in their keys. Dr. Krush said that she has not cashed her termination check, and does not intend to until she has done everything she can to resolve the problems at IHB and—perhaps—return to the clinic and the generations of patients who she has served as their family doctor.
“I knew when I signed [the “Physicians respond …” letter] that it would not go down well,” Dr. Krush said, but “they were lying in the letter from the board. I could not let it go. They said we were doing FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome) evaluations. That’s my department – we have not been doing FAS evaluations since [Dr.] Lydia [Caros] left.”
The March 22nd physicians response letter was reportedly jointly written at a meeting of a number of physicians and medical staff. “I knew when I [said], ‘put my name on it’ that I would get in trouble,” Dr. Krush said. “But, I do not regret it. It had to be done. If my getting fired is what it takes to get this mess cleaned up – I’m not a martyr, but a some point you have to stand up.”
According to Dr. Krush, the Indian Health Board clinic was founded “by a group of community members who hit the streets” and sought community members’ opinions about their unfilled medical needs. “Several doctors from Hennepin County Medical Center would go to coffee with the community members”; the concerned physicians included Dr. Krush, then a resident at HCMC. The IHB “started with a community board,” she said, and elections every year. “I do not know when it shifted to a non-elected board.”
Dr. Krush, along with other physicians and medical staff, hopes that the community meeting planned for 6:00 pm on Monday, April 8th, at the Minneapolis American Indian Center at 1530 E. Franklin Avenue, will lead to healing the problems at IHB.
“The point of the community meeting is to talk about what is going on,” Dr. Lydia Caros told Press/ON. Dr. Caros urges the present board of directors “to resign,” and hopes that the IHB will go back to having a community-elected board. She points to “successful” community-run boards of directors, and says, “it would not take too much time to look at” how these boards of directors are structured and operated. “A bunch of intelligent people ought to be able to” resolve the problems at IHB, the physician says.
Penny Scheffler’s response
Interim director Penny Scheffler confirmed that Dr. Krush and Dr. Banaszak were fired for insubordination. “Yes,” she said, “they advocated against the board and management. We tried to talk to them.”
The physicians “refused to cease the advocacy against the organization,” Scheffler said, and “it is regrettable that this is an unfortunate turn of events.”
Press/ON asked Scheffler about Dr. Krush’s contention that the IHB is no longer doing FAS assessments. “We are able to do fetal alcohol assessments,” Sheffler said, “my information is that we can do this, and so we would like to continue to do this.”
Scheffler responded to Press/ON’s questions about the board of directors – which a number of IHB staff and doctors have characterized as “self-perpetuating” through internal appointment – by pointing out that “the board is following their bylaws.” She responded to this writer’s request for a copy of the bylaws by saying that she would check to see whether or not they are public information.
In light of the upcoming community meeting on Monday, April 8th, Press/ON asked Scheffler if she had any comments about improving the situation at an obviously troubled organization. “I think that we will try to take steps to stabilize the organization, and the main thing that we have do deal with [right now] is getting that permanent executive director on board so that he or she can use their leadership to take the organization forward,” she said. “We are trying to take steps – slow steps, but steps.”