The departure of Dr. Roger Kaiser as chief executive officer of the Erie County Medical Center is an example of how politics can play a larger role at the hospital than the delivery of care.
Kaiser and the board are bound by a nondisparagement clause, and cannot say bad things about one another. But that shouldn't stop others disgusted by the dysfunctional governance of the hospital from speaking out. The politics involved in the ousting of Kaiser, by all accounts a professional and competent doctor who won the respect of the hospital's medical staff, is shameful.
If there was a knock against Kaiser, it may be that he wasn't an experienced hospital administrator. But his focus was where it should have been -- on what was best not just for ECMC, but for the region, as well. He saw the larger need to upgrade the quality of care in the county by collaborating with others.
Kaiser's undoing came because he clashed with ECMC board members and County Executive Joel Giambra over the arrangement to transform the county hospital into a public benefit corporation, which requires the sale of up to $106 million in long-term bonds. Kaiser felt more of the proceeds from that bond sale should go to the hospital.
Rather than having the honesty to fire Kaiser for that difference of opinion, the board came up with a trumped-up charge: Kaiser was accused of helping ECMC Chief Operating Officer Michael Nagowski get a new job as a vice president at Kaleida Health and president of Millard Fillmore Hospital at Gates Circle. Some medical center board members said Kaiser neglected his responsibilities to the hospital and to the board by not informing them earlier that Nagowski planned to leave.
The irony in that is that Nagowski planned to leave because he was sick of the politics that continues to plague ECMC's operations. But the board used Kaiser's friendship with Kaleida CEO William McGuire, whom Kaiser had been talking to for months about collaboration, to add two and two together and get five.
No evidence has been produced to support the charge that Kaiser got Nagowski his new job.Kaiser had nothing to do with Nagowski's departure, McGuire told this page.
"Dr. Kaiser not only did nothing to encourage Mike Nagowski to make the move, he actually countered with a better financial offer to try to keep him there," McGuire said. "Mike's reasons for departing ECMC are well documented in two letters he sent to ECMC's board chair. Dr. Kaiser has been improperly discharged because he challenged the conversion of ECMC to public benefit corporation status. It is transparent that the conversion was made principally to enable the county to monetize the asset by borrowing $106 million -- practically none of which accrues to the benefit of the hospital."
McGuire said that Nagowski originally had been approached by the acting president of the Gates Circle hospital. The two had known each other from Nagowski's previous service there. A second and third contact was made by Kaleida officials, the last being McGuire.
The issue around the Nagowski departure was merely a smoke screen. Politics is the real issue here.
Whether one agrees with the move to convert ECMC to a public benefit corporation or not -- and this page has supported it -- the bottom line is this: Kaiser differed with the county executive, and suddenly the hospital board manufactures a flimsy charge to fire its chief executive.
Kaiser will get a 16-month severance package that includes $437,500 in salary and $79,300 in supplemental retirement benefits plus other fringe benefits for a total of more than $600,000. How much of that could have gone to benefit patients if politics hadn't forced Kaiser out before his contract was up?