Belinda Blair remains indefinitely suspended from her post as President and CEO of Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Kentucky while the board of directors continues an internal investigation into racially insensitive posts on her personal Facebook page.
Blair told Owensboro Times she “doesn’t have a racist bone in my body” and even though she shared one of three memes that were reported to the board, the other two were posted as a result of her Facebook account being hacked in May. The posts have since been deleted.
The local Hospice organization said the Facebook posts were brought to their attention on Monday. Blair was suspended indefinitely on Tuesday.
Hospice board chair Tom Maddox said they began investigating the situation as soon as they were made aware of the posts.
“Hospice does not condone these posts, and they do not reflect the mission or values of Hospice, its Board of Directors, or its employees,” a press release from Hospice read.
Maddox said Hospice can move forward as soon as the board is presented with facts to substantiate that Blair’s account was hacked. He said they are striving to make a decision regarding Blair’s suspension within the next few days, and “certainly within the next week,” he said.
When the board was made aware of the posts on Blair’s Facebook page, they were “totally surprised,” he said.
“She’s in the process of trying to prove that to us,” Maddox said. “Some of them were racially insensitive, especially with the way things are unfolding across the world today. A lot of people were calling us, and they were angered by the posts. We’re not trying to limit her freedom of speech. Until this happened, there had been no negative comments made regarding her work as CEO.”
Blair admitted to sharing one of the memes, which she said was supposed to show how people of both Black and white races historically picked cotton. Blair said the meme was intended to be inclusive, as her grandmother had picked cotton as a small child.
“I didn’t mean that to be racist,” she said.
Blair, who said she grew up in a poor neighborhood in Owensboro and has several Black friends and biracial members of her family, said she has always treated everyone equally.
“I’m very political and a politically opinionated person, but I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” she said. “I’ve been a nurse for 36 years and have always given the same compassion and care to every person I’ve cared for.”
Though the memes were not shared to Hospice’s social media accounts, Maddox said they still reflected the organization poorly.
“At first, some folks thought it was on the Hospice page. We have no problem with what you post on your personal page, as long as it doesn’t reflect negatively on Hospice,” he said. “When you’re the CEO, you’re the face of the organization.”
Blair said she does understand her personal page reflects Hospice. She added that she totally supports the board and said she felt terrible they had to become involved in the matter.
“I know this has put them in a difficult situation. I would never, ever intentionally do anything to put them through this,” she said. “I’ve had tons of people call me and show support. They’ve said, ‘it’s a shame that your reputation is being tarnished when you’re this close to retirement.’”
Blair retired from healthcare in the past but signed on with Hospice as CEO as part of a three-year strategic initiative, with plans to retire in 2022.
At this time, however, Blair said retirement is looking “better and better every day.”
Hospice Development Manager Brenda Knollenberg shared the organization’s statement on Wednesday, saying the organization regretted that the social media posts did not accurately reflect the organization’s mission.
“For over 40 years, our mission has been to provide support and care for those in the final phase of a life-limiting illness so they can live as fully and comfortably as possible,” the statement reads. “Our services are provided without regard to race, color, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability (mental or physical), national origin, diagnosis, ability to pay, or membership in any other protected category. We regret that these social media posts do not reflect that mission.”
Knollenberg asked for the community’s patience as they work to resolve the issue in a timely manner.