Presence suspends 2 Danville employees after release on donations

Presence suspends 2 Danville employees after release on donations

URBANA — Two hospital development employees have been suspended in the wake of a public statement made jointly last week by the charitable foundation boards of Presence Covenant and Presence United Samaritans medical centers.

Danville-based Presence development specialist Angie Lazzell and development associate Debbie Mitchenfelder were bounced by Presence's system office in Chicago within days after a news release was issued on behalf of both local hospital foundation boards that expressed concern about the status of local donor funds, according to Dr. Krishnarao Tangella, chairman of Covenant's foundation board. The release was sent from Lazzell's computer "100 percent" at the direction of the foundation boards, Tangella said.

He doesn't know whether both women were suspended with or without pay, he said, but he believes Presence Health removed them from their jobs because they were being associated with whistle-blowing.

"What they did is they issued a news release from Presence computers," Tangella said.

Phil Muehl, chairman of the United Samaritans foundation board, said both women were longtime hospital employees. Lazzell worked with fundraising events, and Mitchenfeld worked with private donors, he said.

His understanding is that the Presence system office is "investigating their role in assisting the board with the press release," Muehl said. "The first step, they (Presence) locked them out of the computers, so they could review the email and various correspondence, and it's kind of escalated from there."

Both he and Tangella have raised red flags about the status of about $12 million in local donor funds that are in the accounts of both foundations.

Both Covenant and United Samaritans are being sold Feb. 1 to Peoria-based OSF HealthCare, and both of their foundation boards have asked Presence Health repeatedly about why only a sliver of locally raised donations will be transferred to OSF with the sale, Muehl and Tangella said.

Tangella said there is more than $7 million in the accounts of the Covenant foundation, and Presence intends to transfer just $800,000 to $1 million of that to OSF.

There's an even larger gap in Danville. Muehl said he sees $5.8 million in United Samaritans foundation accounts — and Presence has said just $600,000 to $800,000 of that money will go to OSF.

Muehl said he's been disappointed that a Catholic health system would, first, fail to account for donations properly, and then would terminate two long-term employees who were following the direction of the foundation boards in releasing a statement.

"It sure doesn't sound like a religious institution to me," he said.

Lazzell didn't return a call to The News-Gazette, and Mitchenfelder declined to comment.

Presence Health also declined to say anything about their employment, "as with all internal matters and respect for our associates," according to a response to The News-Gazette from the system office.

OSF HealthCare spokeswoman Shelli Dankoff said OSF has offered Lazzell and Mitchenfelder jobs similar to what they do now after the sale closes next month.

Meanwhile, some donors have been dismayed about the tussle that's developed over the foundation money and how Presence Health has treated board inquiries.

"It has the potential to leave us feeling betrayed," said Christie Clinic physician Dr. Stuart King, also a member of the Covenant foundation board and a donor to its fundraising efforts.

He and his fellow board members have a duty to make sure local donor wishes are being honored, whether the donations were as small as $5 or as large as $5 million, King said.

Once the co-president of the former Covenant auxiliary, Sara Hiser of St. Joseph said she wouldn't call herself a major donor. She has, however, given money to support such Covenant services as a new high-tech operating room and a community resource center.

Hiser said her outlook has changed regarding any future giving to the hospital.

"I can't understand why a listing cannot be put together about where this money went," she said.

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EdRyan wrote on January 23, 2018 at 12:01 pm

What are the details of the relationship of the foundations to Presence?  Are they seperate legal entities?  Does Presense hold the funds in trust?  Sounds like those foundation boards need to hire an attorney.