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March 06, 2012 8:33 am

EDITORIAL: PVHC will weather the storm left in Cardwell’s wake

Written by Tessa Schweigert

The news last week came as a shock — and an incredible disappointment — to many.

We reported early last week that a former Powell Valley Healthcare chief executive officer allegedly embezzled nearly $850,000 in the span of about six months.

To make matters worse, the embezzlement amounts to a $847,934 loss for Powell Valley Healthcare — not to HealthTech Management Services, the company that employed Paul Cardwell as CEO. HealthTech is suing only for its damages, not for Powell Valley Healthcare’s loss.

Powell Valley Healthcare recently voted to intervene in the lawsuit against Cardwell.

If allegations are true, then it appears Cardwell — now believed to be in Thailand — might have taken advantage of a fledgling board and new chief financial officer.

Calvin Carey came on as chief financial officer just months before Cardwell began as CEO in March 2011. All but one of the seven Powell Hospital District Board members had less than a year of service on the board when Cardwell began.

It’s important to note that Cardwell’s time at Powell Valley Healthcare was tumultuous from the start.

Cardwell initially accepted the CEO position in fall 2010, then backed out in November that year. He then reapplied and was again selected as a finalist for the position in February 2011. HealthTech and PVHC gave Cardwell a second chance and offered him the job, which he started in March 2011.

Fast forward six months to Sept. 23, when Cardwell submitted his resignation. On that same day, Dr. Mark Wurzel, PVHC board president, learned of a discrepancy in the hospital’s financials.

An audit indicated that checks were written to a company for physician recruitment, and they lacked proper paperwork. HealthTech and PVHC claim that company — Plake and Associates — was a sham.

Cardwell tried to retract his resignation, but it was too late.

The fact that Cardwell’s resignation came just as PVHC leaders learned of the audit troubles seems like more than a coincidence.

We also realize we don’t know all the facts about the Cardwell case yet. It’s simply too early to pass judgment on the Powell Valley Healthcare or Powell Hospital District boards.

As other recent news attests, no health care organization is immune from controversy or personnel headaches.

More details will emerge, and we hope they explain to this community exactly what happened and how. For now, all we know for sure is that Cardwell was not the leader he appeared to be.

Cardwell came to Powell with glowing recommendations from his colleagues in Indiana. Former coworkers and public officials praised his work and his character. When he left White County Memorial Hospital in 2010, the county commission president John Heimlich said it was a pleasure working with Cardwell.

Cardwell “came in at a time when the hospital was experiencing some financial difficulties, the commissioners were concerned about it at that time, but he certainly had a big part in turning it around,” Heimlich told the Monticello (Ind.) Herald Journal in February 2010. “Now with the building of the new hospital, he’s leaving hospital care in White County in good shape. We’ll miss Paul.”

It leaves us wondering what happened to the man who left Indiana on good terms — the one Powell Valley Healthcare and HealthTech thought they were hiring.

While he’s now far removed from Powell, we challenge Cardwell to step up and answer these allegations of embezzlement.

We have faith in Powell Valley Healthcare and believe it can weather this bizarre storm. Unfortunately, it seems the strange tale of Cardwell’s brief stint in Powell is only beginning to unravel.

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