Veteran nurses lose county health employment

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With the departure of county health nurses Gloria Wall and Judy Powell, the Crawford County Health Department continues functioning with its staff, including acting public health director Dan McWilliams, two nurses and an administrative assistant. (Photo by Correne Martin)

Human services head named acting health director

By Correne Martin

Disciplinary action was dealt recently against two veteran Crawford County Health Department leaders. Director Gloria Wall and Public Health Nurse Judy Powell are no longer employees of the department, according to minutes from recent county board personnel committee meetings.

Dan McWilliams, county human services director, has been appointed acting health director. The committee also approved a new job description for public health supervisor/officer and is discussing combining the county human services and health departments into one, moving forward.

“We really need a county health officer and we’re required by the state to have one,” McWilliams indicated. “We’re now recruiting a supervisor who will be qualified as an officer.”

McWilliams wished to assure the public that “at this point in time, we’re still functioning as a health department” with all services as usual.

The actions that led to Wall’s and Powell’s departure, according to county personnel minutes, involved violation of three county ordinances, specifically “work rules.”

At a special personnel committee meeting Oct. 18, the committee decided to place Wall and Powell on paid administrative leave. This was upon learning that Powell was allowed to take a vacation after its allotted deadline.

At the Nov. 10 regular personnel committee meeting, which both the women requested be held in open session, Wall and Powell were discharged from their positions by unanimous committee votes. However, under the direction of Labor Attorney Ed Corcoran, the two made written requests for the personnel and public health committees to conduct an informal review of their “termination.”

Then, on Nov. 14, Wall addressed the committee and “offered to retire,” the minutes stated. The committee accepted this alternative by modifying the termination decision.

At the same meeting, Powell’s termination was affirmed by the four committee members: Larry Kelley, Carl Orr, Brad Steiner and Gari Lorenz. Health committee members Wayne Jerrett abstained and Don Stirling voted against the motion of ending Powell’s employment.

According to County Clerk Janet Geisler, Powell had five business days from the receipt of her termination letter to challenge the decision and ask for an independent hearing.

“We never heard back from her,” Geisler said.

According to personnel minutes, the basis of what happened is that Powell had one year and a three-month extension to use her 151 hours of accumulated vacation. But, as the deadline neared, she had only used 60 of those hours. So she asked Wall about using her remaining vacation time past the deadline and Wall OK’d it.

On Tuesday, Powell personally addressed the circumstances, which she labeled “horrible” and “traumatizing.”

Powell said Wall believed it to be within her realm of director’s authority to permit Powell to take the unused vacation, but to “keep track of it,” which she did.

“If I wanted to steal from the county, why would I keep track (of my hours)?” she pondered. “Why would we do this if we knew it was so wrong? It didn’t affect anyone but me. It didn’t cost (the county) any more money.”

Powell added that there were no incidents in her near 20-year county employment history for which she had been reprimanded. “I stand by the work I did,” she remarked.

County board supervisor and personnel committee member Larry Kelley commented briefly on the situation last week. He said the county board and committee members had recently been “raked over the coals” by other news outlets and didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

“It’s not an experience I’d like to live through again,” Kelley said.

Powell felt similarly. She said she would like to “move on” and that she hopes for the best for Crawford County Public Health.

Although, she wanted to point out that she and Wall recently spent a lot of time writing grant applications for training, materials and necessities.

“We had things we were working so hard for that we wanted to get done,” she said. “But I wasn’t even allowed to check my email to see if we got those grants.”

She also wanted to make sure to give her perspective about Wall and the gains the 35-plus-year nurse made for Crawford County health.

“Gloria was really essential in getting EMS systems started and keeping them in Crawford County. She also worked to keep her certificates so she could be instrumental in training all of the first responders throughout the county,” Powell explained. “There’s a whole lot that goes into Gloria’s position and I don’t think people know what public health is and does. A big portion of the reason I worked at Crawford County, and for so long, was because of Gloria. She and I had the same values and the same desire for the entire county. It didn’t matter your last name or what your income is. When people need help, it’s a basic right for everybody to have safe roads, safe water and safe air. She brought out that passion in me.”

Wall could not be reached for comment.

While Wall is retired, Powell said she has accepted a job working for Vernon Memorial Healthcare in Viroqua.

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