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John E. Friedlander, the administrator who made a bold attempt to reshape the area's hospital services and merged Buffalo General Hospital with other major medical centers, is stepping down after five tumultuous years as head of Kaleida Health.

Friedlander, who rose from a behind-the-scenes hospital consultant in the early 1980s to head the largest hospital system in the Buffalo Niagara region, was asked to resign by the Kaleida's board of directors .

The decision was not a reflection on Friedlander's performance, said Anthony H. Gioia, chairman of Kaleida Health's board of directors.

"The life cycle of a chief executive is finite. The board felt a new set of skills was needed to take the organization to a new level," Gioia said.

Friedlander will step down as president and chief of executive officer of Kaleida as soon as a successor is named. A nationwide search will be launched soon.

"When I accepted this position, I knew what needed to be done, and as I expressed to the board at that time, the magnitude of the changes before us would require a re-examination of leadership once Kaleida's course was well-established," Friedlander said. "That time is now."

The board said it will remain on course with Friedlander's visions for a major Amherst campus at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in Amherst and moving Children's Hospital from Bryant Street to a medical corridor on High Street next to Buffalo General.

Although Friedlander played a key role in the financial turnaround of Buffalo General Hospital in the early 1980s and the formation of Kaleida Health through the merging of Buffalo General with other major medical centers, controversy surrounded some of his more recent initiatives, especially the plan to move Children's Hospital.

In addition, ever since Kaleida Health formed, the giant hospital network has been beset by financial losses, deep staff cuts and controversy over bold plans for its future.

"John is a very astute person, someone with vision, and he accomplished a lot," said a former Kaleida Health executive. "But he faced a monumental task and may not have had the right people skills for it. He can be abrasive and unyielding. He's not really a consensus-builder. He was the right person for the merger. Maybe he's not the right person now."

Friedlander's history in Buffalo goes back to 1979, when he worked as director-manager of health care consulting for Coopers & Lybrand in New York City and his territory included upstate New York.

Dr. William Kinnard, former chief executive officer of Buffalo General, brought him to Buffalo to help after the hospital merged with Deaconess Hospital, embarked on its $210 million expansion, suffered a long nurses strike and fell into a financial mess.

Friedlander, who earned a reputation for his business smarts, energy and fiery temper, was the repairman. Kinnard liked his work so much that he hired him in 1984 as executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Kinnard stepped down in 1990, and Friedlander took over as president and chief executive of Buffalo General.

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