After just six months on the job, Bartlett Regional Hospital CEO Rose Lawhorne resigned.
City staff said she had an “inappropriate relationship” with a hospital employee, which violates the city’s conflict of interest code. Technically, Bartlett employees are City of Juneau employees.
Juneau city manager Rorie Watt said Lawhorne’s relationship predated his tenure as CEO. But, once she became CEO, someone informed the city attorney about the relationship.
“Under the city code, the city attorney is required to investigate this stuff,” Watt said. “The city attorney found evidence. He provided the evidence to Rose to give her the opportunity to provide further evidence.
The city has been investigating Lawhorne for some time, Watt said it had been weeks because “it takes a little while to work on these issues.”
Watt said once the town attorney went to Lawhorne with proof the relationship was ongoing, she quit.
The hospital’s board of directors held a special meeting on Saturday to accept his resignation; Board chairman Kenny Solomon-Gross has so far referred questions to Watt.
Bartlett’s staff received an email on Saturday indicating that Lawhorne had resigned.
In her resignation letter, Lawhorne said she could no longer serve the hospital as CEO and that she had enjoyed her years of service at the regional hospital. Lawhorne has been in the hospital since 1993, and prior to accepting the position of CEO, she was the Emergency Department Director, Staff Nurse, Data Entry Clerk, Head Nurse and Deputy Clinical Director.
Although her resignation letter did not hint at the relationship that led to her resignation, she thanked the board for “respecting my need for confidentiality from my own personal issues.”
Watt said Lawhorne was aware the city shared the details of this relationship and that was the catalyst for his resignation. In this case, he believes Lawhorne’s relationship with this person predates his tenure as CEO. However, he said the city was not aware of the relationship when she was promoted.
“Could this have been fixed before the promotion?” It could have. There could have been an accommodation where we created another hierarchical structure. But, that did not happen, ”he said.
He said he spoke to her.
“She clearly regrets her actions,” Watt said. “She is an excellent, long-time hospital employee who has dedicated her entire career to providing good health care to the public. And, she was ready to step forward to run the hospital in the event of a pandemic. It’s really sad for all of us. She did a lot of good for the community and she made a mistake.
At the same time, he said there was no wiggle room in the city code for an employee who has a relationship with a subordinate.
But Watt has also said he thinks it’s important.
“I think in the national media you can find examples where inappropriate relationships have gone very badly for junior employees,” he said. “In this case, I believe the relationship was completely consensual. But I think it’s a very important principle to respect.
The board of directors has appointed Kathy Callahan as interim CEO. Callahan recently retired as director of medical services at the hospital.
This story has been updated with details provided by the Juneau City Manager.