‘Dr. Z’ quits Whidbey General Hospital board

Dr. Paul Zaveruha resigns from the Whidbey General Hospital board of commissioners Monday in order to devote time to his surgery practice. The board has 90 days to appoint a replacement.  - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Dr. Paul Zaveruha resigns from the Whidbey General Hospital board of commissioners Monday in order to devote time to his surgery practice. The board has 90 days to appoint a replacement.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

Dr. Paul Zaveruha resigned his elected position Monday as a commissioner for the hospital district that operates Whidbey General Hospital in order to devote his time to surgery.

“The most satisfying work for me has always been providing care to patients,” he said. “I’m getting back to my roots.”

Zaveruha, commonly known as “Dr. Z,” is himself an institution at the hospital and has probably operated on a sizable percentage of Whidbey Island residents over the last 30 years.

A long line of his biggest fans — both patients and fellow physicians — detailed his qualities and his importance to the hospital during the commissioners’ meeting Monday night.

He’s served as a general surgeon, emergency department director, trauma director, EMS director and chief of staff. Dr. Byron Skubi described how Zaveruha runs around with four pagers that are constantly going off, but seems to have infinite stamina.

It’s been Zaveruha’s role as a hospital commissioner, however, that’s made him a target of criticism from a couple of vocal detractors over the past year. Ironically, he said it was the accusations that kept him from resigning last year, as he had originally planned.

“In July of 2011, charges were made against me by two concerned citizens regarding supposed conflict of interest and false claims of prohibited financial arrangements between my commissioner role and Whidbey General Hospital,” he read from his letter of resignation. “This of course made it necessary for me to see this through the Washington State Auditor’s investigation of these charges and delayed my plans to resign from my commissioner status.”

Zaveruha said the state Auditor’s Office completely exonerated him of the false charges with a finalized report filed in January, which freed him to resign.

The accusations came from Greenbank attorney Rob Born and Dr. Mark Borden, former emergency department director. Born, a self-styled investigative reporter, writes the “Whidbey General Reformers” blog that’s very critical of hospital administration; the title of issues on the blog include “Is WGH Corrupt at the Top?” and “Who’s to Blame for WGH’s Bad Reputation?”

The men have questioned whether Zaveruha has a conflict of interest by working as the director of Emergency Medical Services and being a hospital commissioner, even though the state auditor has twice ruled that there’s no conflict. Born also accuses him of wielding his influence to inappropriately control the board of commissioners and the hospital in general.

In his blog, Born proposed that he would stop writing if the hospital asked the state Attorney General’s Office for an opinion of whether Zaveruha does indeed have a conflict, but hospital officials declined the offer. In his latest posts, Born wrote an investigative piece on the salaries of hospital paramedics, while the EMS renewal levy is on the November ballot.

Born couldn’t be reached for comment about whether the resignation would affect his blog.

The commissioners and some members of the public criticized the attacks on Zaveruha. Commissioner Ron Wallin said Zaveruha “has taken quite a beating,” but it was based on misconceptions about the board.

“The idea that he ran this board offended all of us,” he said. “It’s not the case. He was a participant. He was one of five votes.”

In his short statement, Zaveruha said it’s been rewarding to see the hospital survive “extreme difficulties and still remain true to its mission of being the hospital for the people of Whidbey Island.”

“The challenges have not stopped but I am confident we have the right people in place on the Board of Commissioners, and the CEO, Mr. (Tom) Tomasino, and the entire team through the hospital,” he said.

The board has 90 days to appoint a replacement to fill the seat as the commissioner for District 2, which covers Central Whidbey. Board President Anne Tarrant said the position would then go on the ballot in 2013. She said commissioners are accepting resumes for the position and she promised that the interviews of candidates will be done at a public meeting.


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