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Duffee to leave Rocking Horse health center

Scathing staff letter supports founder’s vociferious objections to ‘number-driven’ medicine.

The fight that has been brewing over Dr. James A. Duffee’s impending departure from the Rocking Horse Community Health Center broke out in earnest Tuesday morning almost immediately after the center’s staff was informed that he’d signed a separation agreement.

A scathing letter written by Dr. Ashley Fernandes and signed by more than 50 staff charged that Duffee’s “obvious forced-‘retirement’” was “based on a false narrative, made without responsible foresight, executed in a cruel and opaque fashion and enacted without any substantive input from us.”

The letter’s tone was in stark contrast to the official statement Duffee and the Board released Tuesday afternoon.

Board President Rob Baker praised Duffee for his “pioneering vision in establishing Rocking Horse” and called him “a caring doctor who crafted the foundation for a patient centered model of equal access to comprehensive health care for all.”

For his part, Duffee said he was “humbled the grateful for the trust and love shown to me through the years by children, families and community partners.”

When he addressed the staff Tuesday morning, Baker would not comment on the reason for the separation, but said it involved a “very serious” matter involving Duffee.

He underscored that the move had been agreed to by board members who had given their time, treasure and talent in support of the Rocking Horse and Duffee.

An effort also was underway to build on Duffee’s support among founding board members and former staff members who helped to build Rocking Horse and upset Duffee’s ouster.

“We’re not going away,” said Jennifer Sheehan, a former Rocking Horse fundraiser and supporter of Duffee’s.

She said she and others planned to spread the protest by passing out fliers Tuesday evening at the Phillip Phillips concert at the Clark State Performing Arts Center’s Kuss Auditorium.

The staff letter predicted the removal of “our beloved mentor, founder, pediatrician, psychiatrist, public health advocate, community organizer and national recognized leader in pediatric medicine” would have serious consequences.

Among those listed was “a permanent break and lost of trust between the undersigned and the board,” a similar break of trust with the community, and a loss of business.

“Most importantly,” the letter added, would be “a diminishment — perhaps crippling — of the services and mission” of caring for underserved and at risk children and adults.

Fernandes, associated with Wright State University and Dayton’s Children’s Medical Center and who works at the center two days a week, presented the letter to Baker and other board representatives who informed the staff Duffee would not return.

The letter’s shed light on the what appears to be a major point of friction between Duffee and the center’s administration and board, which is searching for a new CEO.

The notion “that Dr. Duffee was somehow … ‘standing in the way’ of the ‘new direction’ of the organization … was and will remain false,” it said.

“Duffee disagreed, in fact, vociferously with (former CEO Dana) Engle or others on the board the letter said. But “rather than seen as a threat,” it added, his criticism should have been “embraced, respected and considered seriously.”

The letter also spelled out what the staff saw as Duffee’s objections.

“Every single person undersigned believes … that the ‘new direction’ of this Federally Qualified Health Center toward a corporate, industrialized, number-driven medicine which eschews the humanistic spirit of its founders and belittles the dignity of its workers — was the wrong direction.”

Asked in a phone interview whether some of the move toward “number-driven” medicine might be the result of reporting and other requirements that come with the center’s status as a Federally Qualified Health Program, Fernandes said “I’m not an expert in this.”

“I don’t think it’s inevitable,” he continued, adding, the issue was “worth talking about rather than trying to suppress.”

He also said that although Duffee, 64, will eventually leave the Rocking Horse, “there could be solutions to this” short of a dismissal.

Founded by Duffee in 1999, Rocking Horse serves 13,500 patients in more than 52,000 visits a year. It recently finished a nearly $8 million addition in preparation of patients it would care for in an expanded Medicaid program.

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