Surgeon Resignation Spurs Public Uproar

Citizens Plan Open Forum to Discuss Troubles at the Vineyard Hospital; Early February Meeting Discussed


Heated opinions continue to percolate in the Vineyard community this week regarding the recent conflict between the chief executive officer of and a leading surgeon at Martha's Vineyard Hospital.

Dr. Richard Koehler, a highly skilled laparoscopic surgeon who has worked for the Vineyard hospital for the last seven years, announced two weeks ago that he will sever his contract with the hospital. Dr. Koehler cited irreconcilable differences with hospital CEO Kevin Burchill as the reason for his resignation.

In an open letter to the Vineyard community, Dr. Koehler announced that he would invoke a voluntary six-month termination clause in his contract, ending his work there on July 8.

Dr. Koehler's announcement was framed around pointed remarks about what he described as the failings of both the hospital's administration and board of trustees.

The clash has caused shock waves throughout the Vineyard community.

Last week, letters to the editor began to pour in, and this week the flow of letters continued with no letup. For the second week in a row, the Gazette received more letters than it had space to print.

Meanwhile, a web site has been established by a group of people who support Dr. Koehler and are planning a community forum on hospital issues. The web site was set up by Deborah Mayhew, a resident of West Tisbury.

By yesterday afternoon more than 400 people had signed a petition at the web site, many of them adding comments.

"Richard Koehler cannot be replaced," wrote Neal Stiller. "I have talked to many hospital personnel as to where he rates as a surgeon on a scale of one to 10. He gets a perfect 10 every time."

"As a physician at the hospital I can assure you that the hospital administration and the board of trustees have no clue as to the depth of dissatisfaction that we as a medical staff are feeling," wrote Dr. John Preston, a former hospital physician. "There doesn't seem to be any interest in either retaining the quality doctors that are here or recruiting talented young physicians who can start to build lifelong practices," Dr. Preston wrote.

"The current situation at the hospital is a reflection of its longtime neglect in its communication and relationship to the community," wrote Margery Meltzer.

Yesterday, a Chilmark resident who is leading the effort to host a forum said he hopes for an event that will create a meeting of the minds on all fronts.

"I think there is a real disconnect between the public and the hospital that has been bubbling for a long time, but the Koehler thing exploded it," said Peter Simon.

Mr. Simon said the forum will include a panel of speakers, and that Dr. Koehler, Dr. Jason Lew, Dr. Stuart Kendall and Dr. Rocco Monto have already agreed to be on the panel. Mr. Simon said he also plans to invite a spokesman for the nurses, some hospital trustees and Mr. Burchill to join the panel.

"Everyone thinks I have an agenda here against the board and Burchill and I really don't - my agenda is to have it be a win-win if that's possible," Mr. Simon said. "Since I moved here year-round in 1986, this is the most critical issue that has ever arisen."

The forum is set for Feb. 5, but the time and place had not been decided at press time yesterday. An announcement with more details is expected next week.