According to the NY Times, it turns out that Joseph Pisani, the former Executive Vice President of State Island University Hospital, who was accused of involvement in the scheme to defraud Medicaid, had taken a position as Senior Vice President for financial planning and forecasting at troubled Westchester (NY) Medical Center in 2003, at a salary of $275,000. In 2004 he was promoted to Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, with a salary of $480,000. At the time, employees and union officials said this salary was excessive given the perilous financial condition of the institution. (The Journal News reported that the hospital has lost $200 million since 2002, and is projected to lose $60 million in 2005.) However, the Chair (in 2004) of the Westchester County Health Care Corporation defended Pisani's salary thus,
- "To get out of this thing, you need good troops, and Joe is really C.E.O material. He has that kind of gravitas and can think outside the box and can think of creative solutions."
OK, here comes my rant. How many times have we heard about the brilliance of health care leaders (often proclaimed by other health care leaders)? How many times have we heard about their intelligence, their vision, their ability to think outside the box? How many times have we heard about how their brilliant plans will improve care, lower costs, etc., etc.? And how many times do these predictions turn out to be wrong?
My favorite example of the over-hyping of health care leadership: In 1995, Sherif Abdelhak gave the prestigious Cooper Lecture at the American Association of Medical Colleges meeting, later published in the prestigious journal, Academic Medicine. In it he proclaimed how through his brilliant leadership, the Allegheny Health Education and Research Foundation was moving into the brave new world of large-scale integrated health care systems. (Remember, they were all the rage in the 1990's.) In 1997, the ACP Observer reported that Abdelhak was considered a "visionary." By 1998, AHERF was bankrupt, the second largest bankruptcy in the US at that time. Abdelhak was convicted of misappropriating charitable funds, and went to jail. (See my summary of the case here starting on page 5.)
So maybe the next time we hear that some top health care leader is "visionary," has "gravitas," or the ability to "think outside the box" of another, a high degree of skepticism is in order. Maybe we should look for leaders who display some modesty, humility, and realism, for a change.