Harsh words may bring some satisfaction, but not results

Brent Baker – Half Baked

There’s nothing quite like watching parents at Little League all-star tournaments.

I was chatting, some years ago, with the coach of such a Little League team that I covered at a district baseball tournament. Our conversation was interrupted by the unfolding drama of the tournament organizer (who also happened to be the county sheriff) compelling a dad to leave the premises after his objections to the decisions of his son’s coach became so belligerent that the kids on the field stopped playing to watch the ongoing discord.

“I was that guy,” my friend the coach said. “I hate to admit it. I was the one who always rode the coach about my kid and thought I knew better than the coaches what they should be doing.”

To his credit, this guy stepped up to try coaching himself, rather than being content to Monday-morning manager, as it were. He got more than he bargained for.

“I didn’t know anything,” he said. “I had to worry about what was best for 15 kids, not just mine. And they’re all counting on me to make the right decisions. And all of a sudden, I had parents yelling at me like I used to yell at coaches.”

Actually, I was wrong. Watching politics unfold – both national and local – is a lot like watching those tournaments. It’s very easy to criticize the decisions of public officials when we disagree with them or they impact us negatively. I do it all the time. Following politics is a bigger threat to my blood pressure than a high sodium diet.

That includes the local variety, particularly when it’s come to the politics of making the North Valley Hospital District financially viable.

I’ve heard the closure of the Assisted Living compared to giving up on something worth preserving. And while I have no doubt of the value of the A/L, I think that is too narrow a view.

I may be a prisoner of sports analogies – 20 years covering athletes, coaches and their world will do that to you – but I find them all-to-applicable.

So, moving on the professional level: if a player’s performance is hurting the team, he (or she) is going to get cut. It’s not a statement on the player’s value as a human being. Cutting him is going to hurt him and damage his family’s financial well-being. If he or she is not prepared to consider another direction for their life, it can be a complete and life-changing disaster. And their family and friends are not going to be complimentary of team management, teammates, or anyone else deemed responsible for their loved one’s dream crashing against reality.

But the coach and general manager are primarily responsible for the well-being of the whole team, not just the individual. The best-run organizations do their best to help players with their personal issues and see them as more than just a collection of skills, but ultimately if that player’s performance is causing the team to lose winnable games, they’ll be sent on their way and replaced by a player that hopefully will perform better.

Some of those moves work out well, and others don’t.

So when it comes to the hospital district, the Assisted Living (and the clinics, for that matter) were that player whose performance was threatening to bring down the whole team. This is not a statement about the A/L’s value, and certainly not about the people living there whose lives were turned upside down.

The hospital board, administrators and CEO were tasked with the decision. Knowing a number of them outside the hospital board room, from seeing them serve in other parts of the community, it has taken a toll on them as well. These aren’t career politicians cloistered in Washington, D.C. They live here, work here and deal with the consequences of their decisions – including outright hostility from some (not all) of those who disagree with them. Some of those who made the hard decisions have been completely shunned at public events.

Some of them are even afraid to walk to their cars after dark, the reaction has been so strong.

It’s one thing to criticize the decisions. It’s another to impugn the morality of the decision-makers because the choices they were obligated to make came with a terrible cost.

Unless someone has done a good enough job of falsifying the hospital’s financial statements to fool both state and private auditing firms, this was a decision that should have been made years ago.

That decision, as well as assessments of the financial performance of other areas of the district (without which intelligent decisions couldn’t be made), were overdue.

Bringing in a fresh perspective without the biases that we all develop after years in the same place – an “outsider” as CEO Linda Michel has been unflatteringly called – was absolutely the right decision, particularly when mixed with the input of the board of local residents that hired her.

Time will tell if it’s enough to keep the North Valley Hospital District afloat.

Heartbreak, frustration, and conversations about our priorities as a society are understandable and appropriate.

Demonizing our friends and neighbors faced with options varying from “bad” to “worse” won’t cause anything but more anger and bitterness — whether it be running a Little League baseball team or a hospital district in an era of heart-rending choices.