In the most candidate-heavy race this election cycle, with eight running for four elected positions, the hospital board race left many wide-eyed or open-mouthed as results rolled in.
Katharine Conover-Keller garnered the most votes, followed by Dr. Brent Blue, former CEO Dr. Lou Hochheiser and Dr. Pam Cutler. Those four top vote-getters will serve on the hospital’s board of trustees for the next four years. Incumbents Mike Tennican and Evan Jones lost their seats.
Meanwhile, Blue is in the process of suing St. John’s Health, the hospital that he will now help run. He was also reelected for county coroner, which means he won two races, earning 3,618 votes for hospital board. Blue spent zero dollars on his two campaigns.
“There’s nothing like being on the ballot twice and not spending a cent,” Blue said Tuesday night. “I think it’s a victory for the people of Teton County.”
For the first time in 12 years, an appointed trustee was not approved by voters in an election cycle. Jones, who was appointed this year, spent a total of $22,266.54 on campaign materials with his co-candidate Conover-Keller, yet he came in third to last with only 2,401 votes.
“Evan is just so knowledgeable, I’m very disappointed,” Conover-Keller said. “I hope that he will continue to be working with us in some capacity.”
Conover-Keller won by a landslide, with 4,407 votes. Appointed to the hospital board in January, Conover-Keller ran against her ex-husband and local builder, Tim Rieser, who came in last with 1,392 votes.
“I’m very gratified by the community support — it’s a little overwhelming,” Conover-Keller said. “The only people that predicted this were my son and my husband, hardly an unbiased group.”
Hochheiser, who retired in 2016 as the CEO of St. John’s, came in third, garnering 3,512 votes. A couple of weeks ago, Hochheiser expressed concern of Blue’s “real motivation” for running for hospital board, in light of his legal entanglements.
“I could not conceive of myself being an adversary of the hospital and taking on the responsibilities of helping the hospital serve the community. It seems they would be in conflict with each other,” he said.
Nonetheless, Hochheiser didn’t fear Blue’s decision to run, because he didn’t think he stood a chance.
“I don’t see him as a competitor for my role, since I don’t think he has any of the experiences that I have,” he said.
Now that the two will collaborate as electeds on the board for the next four years, Hochheiser may realize he aligns with Blue more than he thought, like their shared goal of increasing board transparency. The two are also committed to “cleaning up” the trustee-appointment process, which critics say has given replacements an unfair leg up at election time.
Incumbent Tennican was voted out, trailing Hospital Board Advisor and physician Cutler, who came in fourth, by 773 votes. Cutler earned 3,481 votes.
“Quality and safety is the thing that I’ve always focused on when I was a physician, something [the hospital board] always does well, something you have to nurture to stay on top of,” Cutler said. “I’m also excited about [new administrator] Jeff Sollis coming. He’s going to lead the org really well.”
While the date for the January meeting has not yet been set, check StJohns.health/about/who-we-are/our-board/ for upcoming meetings and other board updates.