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Brent Phillips, president and CEO of Regional Health, was dismissed on Wednesday by the health-care company's board of directors.

The reason given last week for the termination of President and CEO Brent Phillips by the Regional Health Board of Directors doesn't make sense. Instead, it seems like a way to keep the public at bay, which is hardly reassuring.

In a hastily called press conference on Wednesday morning, the Regional board chair said Phillips was dismissed for “a personnel issue.” Lia Green went on to say: “I’m really not at liberty to go into details. I’m sure you all understand that.”

Actually, we don't.

The mystery deepened later in the press conference when his replacement, acting President Paulette Davidson, praised Phillips’ work. “I worked very closely with Brent. I learned a great deal from him. I’m thankful for his leadership. Now, we’re going to take it to the next step.”

Hiding behind the nebulous phrase “personnel issue” is a way to put a wall between the public and in this case one of the largest and most high-profile companies in the region.

Regional Health is a nonprofit company with 5,000 dedicated employees, 24 clinics and five hospitals, making it the primary provider of health care in the Black Hills. Its importance to the region can’t be overstated. Neither should the public's desire to learn why Phillips was fired.

It seems obvious the so-called personnel issue wasn't due to a family matter or related to Phillips' health. If either was the case, it is unlikely the board would have fired him. In the absence of that personnel issues take on a more nefarious implication. Was there harassment in the workplace or something worse? If so, how has that affected the performance of the company or the morale of its workers? Who is the board protecting by calling it a "personnel issue?"

Phillips, who was hired in 2015, was terminated by the 12-member board with a year left on his contract. His tenure has been somewhat rocky. There was a vote of “no confidence” by doctors in 2017; the termination of some mental health services; the implementation of a costly medical records system that led to a hiring freeze and cash-flow problems; and the ongoing problem of dumping medical waste in the city landfill that was not addressed until the Journal reported on it earlier this year. At the same time, Regional has launched an unprecedented building campaign, spending around $400 million for a number of projects. 

Nonprofit health-care companies are not like other businesses. They do not pay property taxes or federal income tax. In exchange, they are expected to provide community benefits like uncompensated care to low-income patients. In this scenario, one can argue that taxpayers subsidize the operations of Regional Health. It is truly a unique relationship.

Regional Health's Board of Directors needs to keep that in mind when it communicates with the public on critical issues like the dismissal of a CEO.

If new leadership wants to build trust with the community, it needs to open doors, not build walls.

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