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ECMC board poised to fill CEO’s job later this month

Thomas J. Quatroche Jr., acting CEO of Erie County Medical Center since the hospital’s board of directors fired his predecessor in November, appears to have the board’s support to take the job on a permanent basis.

The board is prepared to vote at its annual leadership meeting in two weeks recommendations for CEO and chief operating officer, two months after Richard C. Cleland was fired as CEO and Mary Laski Hoffman was forced to resign from another top position.

Board officers declined this week to say what they plan to do at the Jan. 26 meeting. But the board has not interviewed anyone else for the CEO’s job, has not launched a national search for candidates and is emphasizing the importance of continuity in leading the 602-bed, 3,300-employee public hospital into this year and beyond.

“What’s important to ECMC at this time is continuity, and I think it’s going to be important for the board to have their say as to the direction that we take beginning on Jan. 26,” said board member Sharon Hanson, who is expected to replace Kevin Hogan as board chair at the annual meeting.

The leader of a union at the hospital also said he came away from a meeting with Quatroche a couple weeks after his appointment to the interim post believing signs pointed toward the permanent replacement,

“I didn’t take it as a short-term solution” for the vacancy, said Richard Canazzi, president of AFSCME, Local 1095. “It appeared that this was their candidate.”

Hogan and Quatroche met with the editors and reporters of The Buffalo News last week, Accompanying them were Hanson; Dr. Samuel Cloud, president of ECMC’s medical-dental staff; and Robert D. Gioia, chairman of Great Lakes Health, the umbrella organization that oversees Kaleida Health and ECMC.

The hospital leaders, primarily Hogan, defended their decision to fire Cleland and to pay him $1.2 million in a settlement. They argued their public silence over the removals of Cleland and Hoffman has been appropriate. And they pushed back against critics of the board’s leadership.

“From the institution’s perspective, the institution needed to make a change, [and felt] it would benefit from the change regardless of the expense associated with it,” Hogan said.

Quatroche has served as acting CEO since early November, when ECMC’s board fired Cleland after the former CEO refused an ultimatum from the board that included, among other stipulations, requiring him to report to Quatroche, the president.

Cleland was named CEO in May, at the same time Quatroche was named president. Quatroche, a former Hamburg Town Board member, previously served for 10 years as senior vice president for marketing, planning and business development.

He has settled in to the acting CEO’s job over the past two months, conducting town hall meetings with employees, rounding through the hospital, directing the planning for a new emergency room and writing up a detailed “CEO’s Introduction” letter to the board for a recent meeting.

The board’s seven-member executive committee has agreed on recommendations for filling the positions of CEO and chief operating officer. At this point, while Quatroche serves as president and acting CEO, Hoffman’s former duties as chief operating officer have been assigned to several other ECMC officers.

Hogan and Hanson told editors and reporters of The Buffalo News that the full, 15-member board will take up the committee’s recommendations Jan. 26 at its annual leadership meeting, but they declined to offer specifics.

Hanson said the board has considered conducting a national search for Cleland’s replacement, but has not yet done so, and the board has not interviewed anyone for the CEO’s job.

Promoting the internal candidate has happened before at ECMC and Kaleida Health. Cleland served as interim CEO for 13 months before he was named the hospital’s CEO. He replaced Jody L. Lomeo when Lomeo left ECMC to take over as president and CEO of Kaleida Health. Lomeo first held those positions on an interim basis for nearly three months.

ECMC’s board soured on Cleland’s service as CEO after just five months. The board initially fired Cleland for cause but then, 1½ weeks later, entered settlement talks with Cleland and his attorney, leading to the $1.2 million payout in late December. Asked at this week’s editorial board meeting why the hospital board changed course so abruptly, Hogan said it was to avoid the likelihood of costly litigation.

“It was a very difficult situation. There was a unanimous view among the 15 board members, comprised of citizen volunteers who take their fiduciary responsibility to the community very seriously, that they needed to take swift action to terminate two executives, and they did,” Hogan said.

Critics say the board acted irresponsibly to fire Cleland, for no justifiable reason, and say it brought to the surface the dysfunction that has racked the panel in recent months.

“My reaction to the criticism of the board is that it was coming from folks who hadn’t sat in a board meeting,” Hogan said.

He also defended the board’s months-long silence — since releasing a statement the day the firing was announced — on Cleland’s ouster. ECMC is a public benefit corporation with a $542 million annual budget, but Hogan said the settlement agreement with Cleland prohibits the board from further discussing the case.

This is in contrast with Kaleida Health, which held a news conference with Gioia, the Great Lakes Health board chair, and John Koelmel, the Kaleida Health board chair, the same day the board announced the ouster of James Kaskie as CEO.

Hogan said the situations were different because of the threat of litigation in ECMC’s case.

“I don’t think it’s a fair analogy,” Hogan said. “I would love to discuss it further with you, I just don’t think I can.”

As for the effect of Cleland’s settlement, and Hoffman’s $350,000 severance, on the hospital’s bottom line, Quatroche said it is minimal.

The officials also sought to portray the hospital as moving forward in spite of the upheaval of the past two months.

They pointed to data showing ECMC recently concluded a banner year for operating room procedures, both inpatient and outpatient, which rose by 21 percent between 2010 and 2015, and for total discharges, which rose by 22 percent between 2010 and 2015.

“The institution is bigger than one or two people,” said Quatroche, who included himself in that description.

email: swatson@buffnews.com