Hospital CEO Alleges Assault, Leaves Sitka

The appointment of Michelle Putz wasn’t all the assembly drama Friday night.

A scheduled discussion on hospital issues with CEO Jeff Comer was sidetracked when Comer didn’t appear. Instead, he sent hospital board president Celeste Tydingco to read a statement.

I regret that I cannot be here in person tonight. But, as many of you may have heard, I was physically assaulted, and further attacked as I was injured on the ground. As a result, I am still quite shaken up and do not feel safe coming to this meeting in person.

Listen to Jeff Comer’s complete statement to the assembly here. Read it here.

Sitka police chief Sheldon Schmitt confirms that Comer called dispatch Friday afternoon to report an assault, and an officer was sent to take his statement. Comer alleges that he was approached by a man and a woman on a hiking trail near Sitka around 1 PM, and knocked down and kicked after being recognized as the hospital CEO.

Jeff Comer speaking to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce in November 2013, prior to disclosures about the hospital’s financial straits. (KCAW Photo/Rachel Waldholz)
Jeff Comer speaking to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce in November 2013, prior to disclosures about the hospital’s financial straits. (KCAW Photo/Rachel Waldholz)

Chief Schmitt says police are attempting to follow-up with Comer, to get a better description of his alleged assailants.

Comer required neither treatment or hospitalization for his injuries. And he was apparently well enough to travel.

Again, this is Celeste Tydingco reading from Comer’s statement.

Given the physical assault I endured today, I can no longer remain in Sitka, and will be leaving this weekend. Even with this, I am still willing to be available to help the city and hospital as needed, but it will now have to be from Arizona.

Comer took over as CEO of Sitka Community Hospital just three months ago. In remarks to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce in November, he outlined broad plans to regionalize services at the hospital, especially through the use of telemedicine. In early December, however, Comer disclosed that the hospital was in financial jeopardy, and required a $1-million loan to stay afloat. The assembly approved that loan on December 23. Comer subsequently tendered his resignation.

The board of the city-owned hospital will meet at noon Monday, January 5th in the first-floor classroom of the hospital to consider Comer’s resignation. Both Mayor Mim McConnell and municipal administrator Mark Gorman plan on attending. Gorman, who has long experience as a healthcare administrator at SEARHC, told the assembly that time was of the essence.

“The critical thing is identifying a transition team during this period. An actual team that’s moving quite quickly to ensure that there is confidence and stability at the hospital in all patient care functions. And what is the plan.”

Gorman suggested that the transition team answer to the assembly during the crisis, but that ultimately, “the hospital board is responsible for recruiting and hiring a new CEO.”