Prairie Manor board fires 4 top administrators

Published 10:52 am Sunday, January 22, 2012

Four Prairie Manor Care Center administrators were recently fired from their jobs, and many of them have a single question: Why?

“At this point we don’t have a definite reason,” said Mark Robinson, former Prairie Manor Administrator. Robinson worked 14 years at the Blooming Prairie nursing home, and has worked in nursing homes since graduating from college in 1977. Robinson was fired Tuesday, Jan. 10, along with Assistant Director of Nursing Pam Fate and Assistant Administrator Jennifer Milton.

Though the terminations were unexpected, former administrators say Robinson’s job was threatened last summer after Richard Paulson, Prairie Manor Board of Directors Chairman, sent Robinson a letter warning him about how he dealt with employee issues. The Herald could not reach Paulson for comment.

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Robinson said he had never had a problem with Paulson before. Paulson has been on the Prairie Manor board for five years, according to Robinson, and has been board chairman for the past two.

Robinson and other former department heads say they met with the board in late summer to address the letter, which many believe stemmed from an employee who was written up. Former administrators say the board declined to get into specifics, but the administration team explained their views on employee relations and provided documentation about their decisions.

“We never did find out what happened,” said Fate. “They flatly refused to tell us any names or specific situations.”

Fate said the whistleblower policy at Prairie Manor was to let a department head or administrator know about a problem so the administration team could investigate, but said that wasn’t done last summer.

Issues came to a head in January after department heads fired two employees in late December, one of which was the employee who was written up in July. A brother of one of the employees was accepted to the board of directors around that time as well, according to former administrators.

Robinson said he was called to his office the morning of Jan. 10 where three directors, including Paulson, were waiting along with Deidra Burke, a Blooming Prairie-based consultant. The Herald tried multiple times to contact Burke by phone through Prairie Manor but could not reach her.

Burke told Robinson he was being let go due to reorganization. Robinson was told to clear out his office and board members walked him out to his car. Burke assumed control of Prairie Manor and fired Fate and Milton afterwards.

Fate was home sick when Director of Nursing Chuck Johnson called and asked her to come in explaining how Robinson was fired.

Fate was called to the office where Burke told her that her position was being eliminated. Fate asked if there was another Prairie Manor position open for her, and Burke told her no. Fate was told to clean out her office and she was also walked out to her car.

“In all the years that I worked for Prairie Manor, I never received even one disciplinary action against me,” said Fate, who worked at the home for 13 years. “(It was) totally unexpected.”

Fate, Robinson and Milton weren’t the only ones let go, however. Johnson was fired Thursday, Jan. 12, and Robinson’s wife was fired from her housekeeper job at Heather Haus Apartments Tuesday, Jan. 17. Heather Haus Apartments are adjacent to Prairie Manor and share management. Robinson said her wife was let go due to reorganization and because the seniors were upset that she was upset, presumably due to Robinson being fired.

“I was totally surprised by that,” Robinson said.

Yet former administrators are puzzled by the board’s decisions, especially since no one has explained what they did wrong. Usually staff reorganization takes place slowly over time to prevent disruptions in service.

“There’ll be some lead time and (the board of directors) will work with the management team …” Robinson said. “But to walk right in and say ‘We’re going to reorganize,’ and you’re gone that same day, it was quite shocking.”

Over the past year, Prairie Manor staff had been going through culture change, a popular term for nursing home reform which relaxes set schedules and allows seniors a little more flexible time, which former administrators say was going well. In addition, administrators say there wasn’t an uptick in employee turnover this year, though the board had clashed with Robinson in July on the subject.

Prairie Manor had few minor violations on its latest inspection report by the Minnesota Department of Health, and fewer citations than the state average, according to Robinson.

“From an operational standpoint, we couldn’t have had a better year,” Robinson said.

Johnson was hired in November and instituted a few staff change policies which rearranged staff jobs and tasks based on qualifications. Some staff took umbrage with the policy, but overall the changes worked, according to former administrators.

“We had to kind of regroup,” Fate said.