BY RUSSELL HUFFMAN
STEPHENVILLE (May 20, 2019) – No one violated the law but a Stephenville ISD Trustee has been advised to review and update the CIQ Conflict of Interest Disclosures questionnaire, and the SISD needs to ensure that such forms are retained and posted on the SISD’s website.
Those are results of an investigation into concerns by Stephenville ISD Trustee Cole Parks into whether a fellow board member violated conflict of interest and if the board’s president took appropriate action to address a citizen’s concern are expected to be presented to the ISD Board 5:30 PM tonight.
Additionally, the investigation was to address a concern of “have purchasing and procurement procedures been followed with regard to sports medicine, medical supplies, and athletic training services.”
In March of this year, Parks contacted the law firm of Walsh Gallegos citing a concern brought to his attention by a member of the public without disclosing specific terms. Those concerns led to attorney Mark Goulet to contact Stephenville ISD Superintendent Matt Underwood who authorized “a review” of actions taken by Trustee Kerri Vanden Berge and Board President Dr. Ann Calahan.
Vanden Berge is an employee of Vanden Berge Orthopedics (VBO) and married to owner Dr. Kevin Vanden Berge. Dr. Vanden Berge was previously employed with Cross Timber Orthopedics (CTO) in Stephenville before establishing his medical practice downtown.
Following an injury to an out-of-town athlete at a junior high football game on October 2018, Jacob Fain, an employee of CTO who was contracted to work SISD games through a third-party agency and recommended the injured athlete needed additional medical treatment for a broken collar bone.
Fain told the injured athlete’s parents they could go to the emergency room or CTO. The parents chose CTO. CTO’s orthopedic surgeon was out of town, and Dr. Matthew Maruska treated the athlete.
Meanwhile, SISD head athletic trainer Debby Winder was aware CTO’s surgeon was out of town and texted Vanden Berge she might be getting a patient that never arrived because the athlete’s parents elected to seek treatment with CTO and Dr. Maruska who is a “non-operative” sports medicine physician. As part of the investigation CTO office manager Cheryl Hatton presented emails showing the injured parents were satisfied with the care Dr. Maruska provided.
Following the incident, Vanden Berge called Underwood stating she was calling as “an employee of VBO” and not as “trustee.” Vanden Berge added she “would have called Underwood whether or not she sat on the board.”
Vanden Berge’s concern being Fain may not have been impartial in his referral of a student who needed medical care. In Vanden Berge’s view, the referral was not handled in the same manner as high school games, and that trainers and others who have the occasion to refer students to medical practices should be non-biased.
After speaking with Winder about the situation, Underwood instructed the SISD athletic department to refrain from hiring employees from both VBO and CTO until further notice.
Following that decision, a social media post by Fain October 30, 2018, expressed disappointment with Underwood’s decision to refrain using CTO employees at contracted trainers. November 1, Hatton drafted an email to both Dr. Calahan and Underwood in which she asked questions, stated opinions about the situation and the willingness of CTO to help.
Hatton texted Dr. Calahan, and later met for lunch with her on or about November 5, 2018, to discuss the issue. Dr. Calahan mentioned the possibility of a formal grievance and suggested Hatton approach Underwood with her concern.
Hatton did eventually meet with Underwood and athletic director Jarod Womack and never filed a formal grievance.
The investigation by Goulet concluded;
- The Athletic Department did not violate law or policy in contracting with Jacob Fain for athletic trainer coverage for the SISD sporting event.
- Jacob Fain did not violate the law of policy in treating and referring an injured student from another school.
- Trustee Kerri Vanden Berge did not violate law or policy in sharing her personal concern regarding her family business with SISD officials. Noted: All Trustees must tread delicately when acting as a parent, patron, vendor, or other non-trustee roles.
- Board President Dr. Ann Calahan acted appropriately in referring Hatton to the SISD administration, and there was no evidence Dr. Calahan attempted to interfere with a patron who wished to advance or voice a complaint.
Goulet recommended the SISD develop a protocol for students requiring medical attention, including a protocol for medical referrals by nurses and athletic trainers. Review conflict of interests laws and update the CIQ Conflict of Interest Questionnaire as needed.
Goulet also recommended reviewing the use of contracted athletic trainers and Underwood’s recent decision to refrain from using CTO and VBO employees.