Thursday, September 23, 2010

Health Care Leaders in Maine Fail to Learn from Past Experience

From down east Maine comes a telling story about the problems of contemporary health care leadership.  I assembled this case from three articles by Meg Haskell in the Bangor Daily News, links are below. (1-3)

Complaints About the CEO's Clinical Policies

The story begins with complaints about clinical policies instituted by the CEO of Acadia Hospital.

[Acadia CEO David] Proffitt has come under fire in recent weeks from current and former Acadia Hospital employees who say the incidence and severity of staff injuries have risen since he initiated a policy that essentially eliminates the use of mechanical and physical restraints with mentally ill patients who become violent. (2)

The concerns were raised with government agencies:
Since the end of July, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been conducting an on-site investigation into employee complaints of unsafe working conditions at Acadia. The state Department of Health and Human Services also recently has investigated conditions at Acadia, with a report due later this month. (2)

The OSHA investigation was triggered earlier this summer by a complaint filed with the agency alleging an increase in patient assaults on staff after Proffitt implemented stricter standards against the use of mechanical and physical restraints, even when patients turn violent.(3)

Loss of Experienced Clinicians

There were also concerns that Mr Proffitt presided over the loss of experienced clinicians who were replaced by those with less experience
Employees also have alleged that Proffitt has fired or pushed out a number of clinical leaders at Acadia, including former Vice President for Medical Affairs Dr. Paul Tisher and former Chief Nursing Officer April Giard. They have criticized his replacements as lacking expertise in psychiatric care.(3)

Lack of Clinical Experience or Training, Questionable Educational Credentials

Given his direct involvement in clinical decision making, it surprising that Mr Proffitt has no clinical training or experience:
Proffitt’s academic qualifications also have been questioned.

Proffitt’s education includes a 1984 bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, a 1989 master’s degree in recreational administration from Arizona State University, and a 2007 doctoral degree in health administration from Warren National University, now a defunct, unaccredited on-line program. His academic career has been criticized as being inadequate to prepare him for the top-level positions he has held at both Riverview and Acadia, although neither position requires a doctoral degree.(2)

Repeating the Past

It turns out that similar concerns were raised about Proffitt's performance in his previous position:

Psychiatrists formerly employed at Riverview said this week that both patient care and employee morale eroded under Proffitt’s leadership there.

'Over the course of David Proffitt’s tenure at Riverview, a significant number of long-standing and experienced staff left and were replaced with less experienced or temporary people,' said Dr. Bryan Woods, who was employed at Riverview from 2003 to 2006 and now practices in Portland. “\'In my opinion, this resulted in a decrease in the quality of patient care.'

Woods said Proffitt’s management style was often in conflict with the collaborative 'treatment team' approach commonly used in acute-care psychiatric settings.

'Ultimately, I left, because I simply could not work with him,' Woods said.

Woods’ colleague Dr. Dan Filene, who also worked at Riverview under Proffitt, said direct-care staff at the state hospital were placed at increased risk by a stringent policy that all but eliminated the use of any kind of restraints.

'The staff at Riverview are heroic,' he said. 'It’s not just dangerous; it is emotionally challenging, fatiguing, low-paying work. When they are actively being injured, it can’t help but affect patient care.' Filene stressed that most people with mental illness are not dangerous or violent.

Sen. Stanley Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, is chairman of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee. The committee oversees the locked forensic unit at Riverview, where criminals with severe mental illness are housed and treated. Proffitt’s policy of doing away with restraints for even the most dangerous patients prompted a number of complaints, he said.

'We heard concerns that staff members were being injured [by patients],' Gerzofsky said in an interview this week. 'Staff were complaining that [Proffitt] didn’t have the right credentials and that he didn’t take the violence very seriously. We had him in front of our committee several times.'

Gerzofsky’s colleague on the committee, Sen. John Nutting, D-Leeds, said he heard from several Riverview patient families and staff members.

'Legislators were called to see if he could be replaced,' he said. 'There was really just one single reason — he was telling doctors how to treat their patients. He was trying to get between the patients and their doctors.

Nutting said parents of patients were especially concerned.

'They wanted their loved ones to get the care their doctors wanted them to receive, not the CEO of the hospital,' he said.(2)

Proffitt's credentials were also questioned before:
Proffitt’s degrees in recreational therapy and his online doctorate, Nutting observed, did little to reassure worried families.(2)

Proffitt's Defenders

The allegations made against Proffitt, which appear to be from clinical professionals and patients' relatives, were countered by support from, perhaps not surprisingly, managers and executives:
Michelle Hood, CEO of the hospital’s corporate parent Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, says that under Proffitt, Acadia is 'moving in the right direction.' She lauded the progress he has made toward de-stigmatizing mental illness and ramping up Acadia’s outpatient and community services.

Note that Michelle Hood, although she has considerable health care management experience, appears not to have any clinical experience of expertise, from her official biography:
Before arriving at EMHS, Michelle was president and CEO of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, Montana Region, as well as president and CEO of its flagship hospital, St. Vincent Healthcare. She received her Bachelor of Science in 1978 at Purdue University and her Master of Health Care Administration at Georgia State University in 1981. Her early career included roles of associate hospital director at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta Georgia, executive vice president and chief operating officer of St. Vincent’s Hospital (of now Ascension Health) in Birmingham, Alabama and chief administrative officer of Norton Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.

Somehow, the process that hired Mr Proffitt, presided over by Ms Hood, did not seem to consider his previous work at Riverview:
At EMHS, Michelle Hood said Proffitt’s troubles at Riverview 'did not come up' during his interviews for the position of CEO at Acadia.

One of 16 applicants in a nationwide search to replace outgoing CEO Dorothy Hill, he had appropriate letters of reference from former employers, she said.(2)

By the way, the process involved checking whether his educational credentials were accurate, but apparently was unconcerned with the meaning of an on-line degree from an unaccredited institution (subsequently closed down by state authorities, see here.)
His educational credentials checked out.... (2)

Hood dismissed concerns about losses of experienced staff:
Asked about the loss of key clinical administrators at Acadia, including Vice President for Medical Affairs Dr. Paul Tisher and Chief Nursing Officer April Giard, Hood said 'turnover is normal' with a new administration and that Proffitt has successfully recruited new talent and promoted qualified staff from within the organization.

The board of trustees of Acadia Hospital also supported their CEO
At the end of last week, John Bragg, chairman of the hospital’s board of directors, said the board supports embattled CEO David Proffitt, despite a deluge of concerns raised by current and former employees and unflattering revelations about Proffitt’s educational credentials and his leadership at his previous post.

At its regular meeting last Wednesday, the board went into executive session to discuss the situation, Bragg said Friday.

'We came out supporting Dr. Proffitt and the changes that are in place and the team he has put together,' he said.

As best as I can tell, Mr Bragg is the President of a local industrial firm, N H Bragg.

By the way, here is what George Eaton, chairman of the board of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, the parent not-for-profit corporation for Acadia Hospital, said about the executives that are accountable to him:
By making critical decisions, engaging in aggressive fundraising and other activities, 'exceptional senior executives can and should add many multiples of what they cost to the value of the institution,' he said. Eaton said CEO compensation packages within EMHS are determined using information from comparable institutions nationwide.(1)

The job of the CEO is 'incredibly complex,' working in 'the most regulated environment in any industry,' Eaton said.

'The prudent thing to do is to get the best people you can,' he said, 'and pay them what you need to in order to retain them — so long as they are achieving the performance goals set by their board.'
Note that Mr Eaton appears to be an attorney, according to the EMHS site, "George F. Eaton II, Esq.; Bangor; attorney, Rudman & Winchell."

This case illustrates much of what has gone wrong with leadership and governance of health care organizations.

We see health care organizations lead by people who have no experience or training in actually giving health care. Yet people who are not doctors, nurses, or therapists make clinical policies and control clinical care, even against the advice of experienced clinicians. In fact, some such leaders seem to regard clinicians as interchangeable widget-makers making interchangeable widgets. The ill-informed leaders of health care organizations often seem sensitive about their lack of knowledge and experience, and hence may be quick to punish any health care professional who protests their ill-informed decisions.  Moreover, the ill-informed leaders of health care seem to band together to support each other, even in the face of criticism from people with real expertise in health care, or from patients and relatives directly affected by health care and how it is delivered.  Higher level executives who are supposed to supervise lower level executives, and boards of directors which are supposed to exercise stewardship and support institutional values may seem more concerned with protecting the prerogatives of all executives rather than than the patient care mission.

As we have said again, again, again, health care desperately needs leadership that understand the context, and believes in the values.  It needs leaders that puts patients first, ahead of the pay and prerogatives of the executive and managerial class, our would-be new aristocracy.


1.  Haskell M. Maine's hospitals: big jobs, big pay. Bangor Daily News, March 6, 2009.  Link.

2.  Haskell M. Acadia CEO criticized at previous post.  Bangor Daily News, September 10, 2010.  Link.

3.  Haskell M. Acadia board supports CEO despite claims.  Bangor Daily News, September 20, 2010.  Link. 


Anonymous said...

Regrettably, this far more common than anyone would like to believe.

InformaticsMD said...

Workers injured by patients improperly left unrestrained should sue the CEO for violation of his fiduciary responsibilities to them to maintain a safe work environment, and the Board for failing due diligence in hiring someone with possible problems in past roles and seemingly underqualified for the position.

colgate teeth whitening said...

what is the real disaster in health world ? if people who are not doctors, nurses, or therapists become the leader of health care organizationns.