NEW BEDFORD — Survivors of domestic violence are criticizing Southcoast Health’s Board of Trustees for allowing President and CEO Keith A. Hovan to continue working following his arrest for alleged domestic assault and battery on Saturday.
“I don’t think that’s OK at all… I’m shocked they’re allowing him to continue his position,” said Jennifer Blum, founder and director of The Help SAVE Foundation in Fairhaven.
“He works at a nonprofit hospital,” said Mariana Silva-Buck, vice president of development and education at New Hope, a nonprofit serving those affected by domestic and sexual violence. “He is in that major leadership role and should be the person more aware than anyone on domestic violence.”
Hovan was arrested Saturday night for alleged domestic assault in his home. As of Thursday, the health nonprofit’s Board of Trustees, which oversees Hovan, has issued one statement, in which it called the incident a “personal family matter.”
Blum and Silva-Buck disagreed about it being “personal,” especially given the criminal charges filed against Hovan, one of which is for alleged possession of illegal firearm ammunition.
“It’s sending a message that this is a slap on the wrist … to not have him step down from a position like that, I think that’s pretty disgusting,” Blum said.
“It affects everyone else’s job … it affects the trust that his team and patients are going to have on him now,” Silva-Buck said.
“It’s not New Balance shoes where you have no connection with domestic violence,” she continued. “This is a hospital where there are programs for domestic violence, for sexual violence… entire human services work happens there. To see the board react in that way, it’s sad to be honest.”
Blum experienced domestic violence for 13 years before starting an organization to help others. She said a lot of domestic violence is rooted in the abuser’s need for power and control.
Reports state that officers responded to Hovan’s Rochester home late Saturday night after his daughter called 911 to report an alleged domestic assault involving Hovan and his wife. An officer who responded to the home noted Hovan was “covered in a liquid” that smelled like alcohol. The officer wrote that Hovan exited the front door stating “something along the lines of, ‘It was me, I did it, my arm hit her in the face.’”
One officer also reported seeing cuts with blood on Hovan’s forearm.
After entering the home, an officer attended to Hovan’s wife, spotting droplets of blood on clothing and a red mark on her face that later became a bruise. She told police an argument started over a television show, but became physical when she started writing in a journal, which Hovan then tried to grab, police said. An officer noted ripped paper on the ground.
Hovan that night said the matter was unfortunate and “apologized for losing his temper,” police said. He also reportedly stated that his daughter “did the right thing for calling the police” and that he was proud of her.
The Board of Trustees in its statement wrote that Hovan “immediately” made the board aware the following morning, and that its members fully support the Hovan family as they deal with this “personal family matter.” The board stated it would allow the matter to be adjudicated and refrain from further comment.
“As a Board, we value and respect every member of the Southcoast Health team,” the board wrote. “It is important that you know that the Board is aware and will always directly address matters affecting the Southcoast Health community.”
Silva-Buck called the board members’ response “disappointing” and “mind-blowing,” saying it almost sounded like they were “praising” Hovan for coming forward the following morning, placing this “good” character on someone who allegedly committed assault.
She said the only response should have been to suspend Hovan as authorities and the board investigate the matter, and to affirmatively state that violence of any kind is not condoned.
Southcoast Health in a 2020 article stated it values the safety of every community member and does “not want anyone to remain in a dangerous situation regarding domestic violence.”
The health system partnered with Pamela MacLeod-Lima of New Bedford-based The Women’s Center a few months into the pandemic to inform the community of available resources for those experiencing domestic violence.
One of the Board of Trustees members, Dr. Jay Schachne, helped establish a program that teaches students about how to recognize warning signs of violence and prevent it from occurring in relationships. The Katie Brown Educational Program is supported in part by Southcoast Health, according to its sponsors page.
In 2018, Schachne, a cardiologist, received a “Community Clinician of the Year” award, in part for his contributions to the community. The program he co-founded reportedly reaches over 6,000 people annually. According to an article on the award, Schachne said domestic violence is a “preventable social epidemic.”
The Light tried to reach Schachne on Wednesday via an email address listed on Brown University’s website, but received no response.
Silva-Buck and Blum said it is important to note that domestic violence doesn’t affect a single race, ethnicity or socioeconomic background. Rather, it happens in “every kind of scenario” and can affect anyone, regardless of background or status.
“Domestic violence is definitely a health issue, we should no longer be viewing domestic violence as a taboo subject,” Silva-Buck said. “This is a health crisis.”
Multiple news outlets reported that domestic violence hotlines saw an uptick in calls at the beginning and throughout the pandemic.
About one in four women and nearly one in 10 men have experienced intimate partner violence during their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Massachusetts, 33.9% of women and 31.7% of men experience physical violence, sexual violence and/or stalking from their intimate partner during their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Cheryl Bartlett, CEO of the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center, said that without the facts, she is unable to comment.
“For the sake of the community I hope there is swift resolution,” Bartlett wrote.
A union representing thousands of healthcare workers in the state, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Massachusetts, had no comment, said spokesperson Marlishia Aho.
Joe Markman, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, also said the MNA had no comment on Hovan’s arrest. The MNA represents nurses across the state, including those within the Southcoast Health system. He said nurses at St. Luke’s Hospital are focusing on contract negotiations and improving patient care.
Gail Fortes, executive director of the YWCA Southeastern Massachusetts, said by email that she has no comment on Hovan or the Board of Trustees.
“I believe in following best practice for nonprofits which says that the Board makes decisions regarding the CEO,” she wrote in an email. “It is up to the Board of Trustees to make the determination. I am sure they will do what is best for Southcoast Health.”
The Board of Trustees is the governing body of Southcoast Health System, Inc. and Southcoast Hospitals Group, Inc. It has the “ultimate decision-making authority” for the corporations within the Southcoast Health system, said Molly Horan, a spokesperson for this matter.
Board membership is voluntary and trustees are not compensated. Trustees may not serve more than four consecutive three-year terms, and members are nominated by a “Governance Committee,” which looks to the community to fill vacancies, Horan said.
“The Board governs the corporation by adopting a strategic plan and policies that govern the corporation, selecting and overseeing the CEO and ensuring that the corporation is fulfilling and has adequate resources to advance its mission,” she wrote by email. “…the Board must be kept apprised of the activities and challenges of the corporation and regularly votes on matters related to the corporation.”
As of Thursday evening, Horan said the board had no further statement.
Email Anastasia Lennon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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