In September, Cardwell pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $850,000 from Powell Valley Healthcare while serving as its chief executive officer.
His sentencing by federal Judge Nancy Freudenthal served as closure for many after more than two long years of anger, angst and frustration.
“Folks seem pleased both that the sentencing has happened, but also with the length of the sentence,” said current CEO Bill Patten. “I have heard things like ‘I thought he would get off with a slap on the hand,’ so overall I think they are satisfied that justice was done.
“When asked, ‘Is it over?’ I have said YES — now we can really focus on our future!” Patten said Wednesday.
In an email to employees, Patten wrote on Tuesday, “While my ‘pound of flesh’ point of view wanted more, given the different issues the judge took into consideration (and it was clear that she did carefully consider the facts and circumstances of the case), I think we can all feel satisfied with this sentence.”
That has been an uphill battle for Patten, his leadership team, medical providers and PVHC employees, who have felt the consequences of Cardwell’s actions in most every aspect of their employment. Those consequences have ranged from financial consequences to distrust and low morale to reverberations in the community. (See related story below.)
“And we have had to deal with the constant barrage of front page, above-the-fold newspaper stories,” Patten told Freudenthal in federal court in Cheyenne on Monday. “It was as if we were stuck in quicksand and could not move past the pain of this scheme and its impact on our organization.
“In fact, as I prepared to come down here today, I can’t tell you how many people said, ‘So when is this ever going to end?’” Patten told the judge.
The finish came with an unwelcomed and unreturned greeting. Cardwell waved, nodded and mouthed “hello” to the Powell Valley Healthcare employees present as he entered the courtroom on Monday.
“They weren’t surprised that he would try to be friendly — just part of his con artist approach,” Patten said.
In his email to employees, Patten said Cardwell’s 121-month sentence, along with the 30-month sentence handed down last year to accomplice Michael Plake, is an important step in the continuing healing process.
“This sentence, along with the previous sentence of Michael Plake, is an important step in the continued healing process,” Patten said in the email.
“Now that this issue has been thoroughly investigated and acted upon, we can move past the crimes of Paul Cardwell and focus our attention squarely on the future.”
Jim Cannon, public relations manager for Powell Valley Healthcare, agreed that the sentencing is a relief.
“I think everyone is pleased that the sentencing is completed and that the sentence was just,” Cannon said. “And frankly, I think we are ready to be finished reading about Cardwell and focus on the many positive things we have going.”
Patten details effects of Cardwell’s actions
In federal court in Cheyenne on Monday, Powell Valley Healthcare CEO Bill Patten detailed the difficulties he and PVHC have experienced because of Cardwell’s actions.
“My first day was the very day the newspapers first publicly announced the embezzlement scheme of Paul Cardwell and Michael Plake — quite a welcome to my new job,” he told Judge Nancy Freudenthal.
“As health-care organizations go, Powell Valley Healthcare is a small facility,” Patten said in court. “We operate on razor-thin margins and live or die based upon our ability to leverage our limited financial resources. The diversion of almost $850,000 created numerous financial challenges for our organization, some of which we are still struggling to overcome.”
Those included dangerously low cash flow and the loss of the money it cost to recruit a new CEO — twice.
“Powell Valley incurred huge costs and got nothing positive — and everything negative — to show for it,” Patten said.
“In addition to financial damage ... Mr. Cardwell’s lack of direction and lack of attention to issues of the organization during his tenure still adversely affect Powell Valley Healthcare,” Patten said. “Whenever an organization suffers a serious setback such as this embezzlement scheme, it is natural for folks to ask, ‘How could this have happened?’ ‘Who was asleep at the switch?’ ‘Don’t we hire people to make sure things like that don’t happen?’ ...
“The competence and loyalty of the administrative team was questioned. Internal strife was common, and loyalties were called into question. Early in the experience, the medical staff was pitted against the board. And the longstanding positive relationship between HealthTech (the company that provides management services to Powell Valley Healthcare and employs its CEO) and Powell Valley Healthcare was strained, almost to the breaking point,” Patten said. “That relationship has emerged fully intact, thanks only to the good faith and diligence shown by both sides, and no thanks to Mr. Cardwell.”
Other consequences Patten and PVHC employees have had to deal with include low morale and the time and attention required to investigate, document and deal with Cardwell’s crimes and other problems he created, and the work needed to “repair and restore trusting relationships,” Patten said.
Many hours were spent reviewing and re-reviewing internal processes and controls, he said.
Patten said his own relationship with Powell Valley Healthcare’s board was seriously affected by being Cardwell’s successor and that dealing with the stress and anxiety has taken a toll on him and his family.
“I can assure you that my first year in Powell has been anything but normal,” Patten said.