The only nurse serving as an El Camino Hospital Board member is still searching for answers after being denied reappointment to her position last month. Both current and former board members say the situation lacks transparency.
The hospital board is made up of five publicly elected El Camino Healthcare District Board members, and up to five appointed members chosen by the district board. Julie Kliger was one of those appointed members, having first been selected for a term in 2018, and then reappointed in 2020.
A nurse by trade, Kliger holds a master’s degree from Harvard University in health policy administration, and has spent the last three decades in hospital and healthcare operations as a nurse, consultant and published author on health care quality measurement, she told the Voice in an interview.
The appointed members serve as subject matter experts on different aspects of health care. Together, the elected district members and the appointed hospital board members oversee the assets of the district, including El Camino Hospital. Kliger said her breadth of experience as a nurse, as well as her background in quality and patient safety, is what led her to first apply and be selected for one of the appointed hospital board positions five years ago.
With her term ending June 30, Kliger said she was eager to continue serving on the hospital board for the next three years. But she was surprised to learn during a Feb. 8 public meeting that her tenure on the board would soon be over.
During the Feb. 8 district board meeting, Board Chair Julia Miller announced that Kliger was not recommended for reappointment by the board’s ad hoc committee. Kliger said this was the first time she learned that she wasn’t being reappointed.
“I was never given any notice that they’d made a decision,” Kliger said.
After hearing the verdict, Kliger said she attempted to dial in to the meeting so she could make a comment, but that the number posted on the website for the district board did not work.
Whenever hospital board members are up for reappointment, an ad hoc committee made up of two district board members is formed to make a recommendation on whether or not the members should return for another term, an El Camino Health spokesperson said in a statement. These committees also include two hospital board members as advisors, who do not get to cast votes on whether or not to reappoint a member, the spokesperson said.
The chair of the ad hoc committee is appointed by the district board chair. In this case, Chair Miller appointed herself as chair of the ad hoc committee. Dr. Peter Fung served as the other district member on the committee, and hospital board members Lanhee Chen and Dr. Jack Po served as the advisory, non-voting members.
After Miller announced the ad hoc committee’s recommendation not to reappoint Kliger at the Feb. 8 meeting, District Board member John Zoglin asked for a report from the ad hoc committee, as well as more information about how and why the decision was reached.
Miller responded that she would be “happy to discuss that in closed session, as it’s a personnel issue,” but the hospital’s legal counsel stepped in and said that’s not allowed, as hospital board members are not considered personnel.
Zoglin again reiterated his desire to hear the report from the ad hoc committee, which Fung proceeded to read out. The report outlined some of the qualities the district looks for in hospital board members, including subject matter expertise and diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity, generation and geography. Fung said that after considering all these factors, the committee arrived at consensus not to reappoint Kliger.
The report did not specify what factors contributed to the decision not to reappoint Kliger, nor did it offer any specific reasoning for why she should no longer sit on the board.
When asked to comment on Kliger not being reappointed, an El Camino Health spokesperson said the actions taken by the board “were to ensure a balance of professional experience with those who reside locally.”
“The process followed was consistent with the bylaws of the District and the Brown Act,” the statement added.
A call for clarity
Zoglin told the Voice in an interview that he wanted more transparency from the ad hoc committee about how it arrived at its decision.
“As the only nurse on the board and one of the few people who really had hospital administrative expertise, I think she brings a pretty unique perspective and insight,” Zoglin said of Kliger. “I wasn’t able to glean the thinking behind the decision.”
He also questioned the makeup of the ad hoc committee.
“Ms. Miller as chair has been appointing herself to all the ad hoc committees. That’s sort of an unwarranted use of power,” he said. “… Generally I would not think it appropriate for the chair to regularly appoint herself to the ad hoc committees, and that has been the case for the last couple of committees.”
When asked if she could think of anything that might have contributed to the decision, Kliger said she and Miller at times do not see eye to eye on issues facing the board. Kliger believes she ultimately “fell out of favor” with Miller.
“I think that if this individual was not involved,” Kliger said of Miller, “it would have been pretty much a slam dunk that I would have been reappointed, because I have the experience, I have the expertise, I have diversity: I’m the only nurse that has ever been on the board, to my knowledge.”
The El Camino Hospital nurse’s union, Professional Resource for Nurses, spoke out in support of Kliger at the Feb. 8 meeting, before the board discussed the reappointments.
“She’s been so very instrumental in ensuring that our voice is heard at the district level,” union president and chief negotiator John McClure said, adding that she represents the 1,500 nurses that work for El Camino Hospital.
When asked to comment on the decision, Miller declined, stating that the marketing department handles all media requests. When the Voice reached out to marketing and asked to arrange an interview with Miller or any other member of the ad hoc committee, a spokesperson said “no one from the committee is available.”
Miller also served as chair of an ad hoc committee formed in 2018, which was similarly tasked with deciding whether to reappoint Dr. Jeffrey Davis, a hospital board member at the time. According to minutes from a Dec. 5, 2018 meeting, the ad hoc committee’s recommendation was to not to reappoint Davis.
Davis said the common denominator between his and Kliger’s experience with the appointment process is a lack of transparency over the decision making process.
“It’s basically held behind closed doors,” Davis told the Voice in an interview this week. “When you ask people for explanations, nobody gives it to you.”
“People can vote any way they want, but they should have reasons.”
Director Zoglin noted that to fill Kliger's seat, the board will open applications in the future, and that Kliger could choose to apply. According to board meeting minutes, Kliger's term expires on June 30.