By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Amid a sweeping new demand for records from the governor’s office, Broward Health’s governing board voted Wednesday to replace its chief executive and put its controversial general counsel on a 30-day review plan.
The votes followed unprecedented warnings from taxpayer-supported Broward Health’s top doctors and non-medical staff that its administration has become so dysfunctional that without help its flagship public hospital, the former Broward General Medical Center, is 30 days away from being forced to shut down.
“Patient care at Broward General is hanging by a thread,” said hospital chief of staff Dr. Louis Yogel.
At the same time, Broward Health’s commissioners listened as two top administrators appeared at the podium on behalf of other employees to demand corrective action by the seven-member board of Republicans appointed by Gov. Rick Scott.
“We support a take-back of Broward Health from the lobbyists, angry bloggers and attorneys,” said Doris Peek, a senior vice president and chief information officer.
Out as Broward Health President/CEO is Kevin Fusco, who remains employed as chief operating officer. Fusco was reported to be sick and could not be reached for comment.
Broward Health North Chief Executive Pauline Grant replaced Fusco to audience applause. She was the first woman to lead the North Broward Hospital District.
General Counsel Lynn Barrett, the focus of staff allegations that her mishandling of dozens of service contracts has led to internal chaos, survived a move to fire her. Broward Health Chairman David Di Pietro led the push to get rid of Barrett, an effort that Commissioner Christopher T. Ure compared to a “public lynching.”
Di Pietro couldn’t secure the needed four votes, however, and instead agreed to a compromise that put Barrett on a 30-day review plan. Commissioners will revisit Barrett’s performance next month.
Again and again, ranking Broward Health staffers rose to go public about what they said was an internal climate of intimidation and fear. Morale was said to be as low as it has ever been.
“Frightened, scared, disgusted,” was how Chief Compliance Officer Donna Lewis described the mood. “I have never heard more allegations of retaliation in my 16 years.” She added that she, too, was frightened as contractual and other important matters ground to a halt due to Fusco’s recent absences from Broward Health due to illness and vacation.
“I need resources. I need them badly,” Lewis told the board. “Get us back on track.”
Wednesday’s events played out following the arrival Tuesday afternoon of a letter from the governor’s Office of the Chief Inspector General that dramatically expanded the scope of its Broward Health inquiry.
The letter sought more than half a dozen categories of records, including those regarding “potential or actual” conflicts of interest disclosed since 2012 by Broward Health’s commissioners or administrators, and behind-the-scenes lobbying practices. The letter follows a similar demand from Tallahassee on Jan. 29 that the district turn over every contract it has awarded since July 1, 2012.
State investigators also instructed Broward Health to produce copies of termination agreements signed last month with a pair of former Broward Health executives who were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in hush money authorized by Fusco, the CEO/President ousted Wednesday.
“Complete personnel files” sought
Likewise, Broward Health was told to produce “complete personnel files” for 10 current and former hospital district officials. The letter signed by Investigations Manager Erin Romeiser explained that the information is needed “to provide a full understanding” of their relationship to the hospital district.
Those current Broward Health employees are Fusco, Barrett, Vice President for Physician Practices Maria Panyi, Chief Internal Auditor Vinnette Hall and Vice President/Chief Compliance Officer Donna Lewis. Former employees are compliance officer Mike Palaez, procurement director Brian Bravo, CEO/President Frank Nask, Chief Financial Officer Robert K. Martin and Broward Health Medical Center chief executive Calvin Glidewell.
Martin and Glidewell are the ex-Broward Health officials given deals last month that will pay them a total of $937,000 to keep their mouths shut.
Fort Lauderdale attorney Mitchell Berger, whose firm was hired recently by the district to help it deal with various federal and state investigations, called this week’s demands from the Chief Inspector General “over the top” and an unneeded “distraction” for a hospital district that is seeking to address questions about both its business dealings and its financial condition.
On March 4, for the second time in a month, Moody’s Investor’s Service downgraded the credit rating on Broward Health’s bonds.
The March 15 letter from the Chief Inspector General’s Office sought four other types of records from Broward Health:
- “Any and all contracts and invoices for legal services and/or investigative services…from 2012 to present.” The information is to include names, dates and types of service and the scope of work.
- All records, policies, procedures, opinions and legal advice “pertaining to board governance…independence, independence statements and compliance with sunshine laws and/or public meeting rules.
- Similar records and advice “relating to the separation of authorities of the Board oversight activities versus operational management of Broward Health.
- All records, legal advice and training materials “regarding the use of ‘shade’ meetings” by Broward Health’s governing board of commissioners or any committee of the board. It added: “Please include a listing of all meetings conducted in the ‘shade’…(and) justification for conducting the meeting or portions of the meeting in the ‘shade’ for the period of 2012 to present.”