Healthcare chairman calls doctor a “girl” with “boatload of children”, commissioner claims

Updated: Sep. 23, 2023 at 7:29 AM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Houston County Healthcare Authority Chairman Chester Sowell disrespected a female doctor and made an inappropriate reference to her motherhood, a county commissioner claimed.

Ricky Herring of District 3 accused Sowell on Thursday of making the comments when they met a few weeks ago to discuss appointments to the Authority that oversees Southeast Health Medical Center and its medical network.

Sowell, he claimed, called 40-year-old Dr. Kelsey Tedin Steensland, who Herring wanted to appoint, a “girl” during their conversations and made what Herring believes were other inappropriate remarks about the mother of six.

“It’s hard for you to volunteer when you have a boatload of children,” he claims Sowell said during that meeting.

Authority members are unpaid.

Herring said though she last practiced in December, Steensland is a respected anesthesiologist with a record of volunteerism, including Southeast Foundation, a non-profit philanthropy group.

However, Sowell denied making derogatory remarks about Steensland, whose husband is a Houston County judge.

“I have nothing but the deepest respect for Dr. Steensland and the other board nominees,” Sowell told News4.

The rift stems from a law requiring commissioners to choose from three names submitted by the Authority for the 13-seat board, with appointments for some seats due next week. Steensland was not among them.

Commissioners---at least some---want sole say over their appointments.

Related: Healthcare Authority member quits amid lawmaker spat

Herring vows he won’t reappoint Sowell, who would continue serving until Herring makes another appointment, with no timetable to do so, though Herring said he would gladly accept Sowell’s resignation “today.”

Likewise, District 4 commissioner James Ivey also plans no appointment for now and called on current representative Bob Theune to resign, claiming he no longer lived in the district.

These maneuvers are the latest in an ongoing feud between some commission members and the healthcare authority over the selection of its members. Each of four commissioners choose three representatives on the Authority. The head of the hospital’s medical staff holds the 13th seat.

“The board has continued to follow the healthcare authority guidelines as they are written,” Sowell reacted, suggesting that if commissioners are unhappy with the process, they should change the law.

Less than two years ago, they tried to do just and solicited assistance from state lawmakers, but the legislature never voted on the measure, and it fizzled.

Related: Bill would strip Southeast Health board of appointment power

Several months later, Herring was among commissioners who scoffed because the Authority implemented a millage increase that increased property taxes, claiming Southeast Heath lost $10 million in 2022.

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