Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Beth Israel CEO Paul Levy---disruptive administrator?

I guess when you're on top of the world---CEO of one of the nation's most prestigious medical centers, making around a million a year, bombarded with invitations to speak all over the country---you're in a situation that could lead to lapses in judgment. That's about all Levy choses to own so far in this controversy (H/T to Grunt Doc):

The Board of Directors of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, with the assistance of outside counsel, has completed its review of allegations made involving President and CEO Paul Levy. The review focused on a personal relationship with a former employee of the Medical Center. The Board found that over time the situation created an improper appearance and became a distraction within the hospital.

The Board believes that Mr. Levy should have recognized this situation in a more timely fashion and should have conducted himself in keeping with business protocol appropriate for the office of the CEO.

Mr. Levy agrees that it was a serious lapse in judgment and agrees with the Board’s conclusions. He has apologized to us and to the entire staff of the hospital.

Although our outside counsel found that Mr. Levy did not violate hospital policy, the board determined that he showed poor judgment and the board expressed its disappointment. Accordingly, the board has voted to take appropriate actions by:

1. imposing a financial penalty of $50,000 to be paid to the hospital in the current fiscal year.
2. instructing that this matter be considered in determining the CEO's compensation for the next fiscal year.

Although in this instance, Mr. Levy has not lived up to the standards we set for our CEO, the Board also considered his exemplary record over the course of his tenure at BIDMC...

What more do we know? The employee in question was a woman who worked in several positions in the organization, including as Levy's special assistant. The relationship was brought to the board's attention by an anonymous whistle blower. As reported here, (see video) the situation with the female employee created a distraction (can you say disruptive?) for the hospital.

Although a Boston Herald reporter was hounding Levy about the incident on the way to Columbus Ohio where he spoke to a group of physicians, at the meeting he deflected concerns about the media presence thusly:

The morning after a Herald reporter specifically quizzed him about the relationship as he headed to a keynote speech on hospital transparency, Levy insisted he did not know why the reporter was seeking his comment.

“Our hospital is subject to what they call a corporate campaign by Service Employees International Union,” an apologetic Levy told the crowd at the Columbus, Ohio, conference as he began his speech, “Why Transparency is Important to Patient Safety.”

“And one of the things they like to do is show up at events where I am and try to disrupt those events with irrelevant questions or demonstrations and the like,”...

Now I'm not sure about the $50K. Can a hospital fine its CEO? I'm guessing it was reimbursement for a severance package they paid the employee in question, but it's not clear.

A commentary from WBUR in Boston said this:

But for an administrator who has been such an aggressive advocate of transparency in medicine, Levy’s apology today is anything but. Now that he’s said sorry, and the matter appears to be resolved, will we soon read a post about what, actually, happened? I suspect Mr. Levy’s loyal readers would like to know.

So how much do we really need to know? A reporter from the Boston Herald has a blog devoted to the subject, and seems determined to uncover all the salacious details. Jaz-Michael King, blogging over at A Scanner Brightly, sees it differently:

It is my opinion, and my opinion only, that a figure with as much publicity as Mr Levy should not avoid the fact entirely on his many outlets, especially given his use of his blog as a glimpse in to his personal as well as his professional life. The modern world and its modern communications channels necessitate that we bloggers and tweeters and users of the Web cannot but give up much of our privacy, and separating personal from professional has never been harder now that we are all profiled and LinkedIn'ed...

But this pious outpouring that he should be fully documenting his tribulation for all of us to benefit from his transparency is nothing but sanctimonious codswallop.

Now a few observations of my own. If the reports are true Levy's behavior was disruptive. It was a distraction and, judging from comments from defenders and detractors, divisive. It may have resulted in the loss of an employee. BIDMC is to be applauded for recognizing that zero tolerance for disruptive behavior applies all across the organization, to administrators as well as physicians.

Levy's lapse was not only in judgment but also in transparency (about which he has been beating the drum for some time), as he apparently chose not to deal with this openly until someone blew the whistle. Do the principles of transparency apply to his personal life? Yes, to the key people at BIDMC who have responsibility to find out why this was allowed to happen and take preventive measures (a root cause analysis, if you will). But the public doesn't need to know more. There's Levy's family to consider.

I have no idea how institutional politics play out at BIDMC, but I hope the board dealt with the situation in a fair and even handed way. I also hope Levy stays on. I am glad that the board chose to honor him for his past accomplishments. Despite my previous skepticism about his statements on transparency and zero error rates, I believe the institution has prospered under his leadership. Finally, I hope the lessons here are not lost. Administrators, nurses and doctors should be held to an even standard regarding disruptive behavior. Transparency and disclosure are nuanced issues. They are difficult, and they have consequences.

No comments: