Friday, December 10, 2010

On the Interconnectedness of the Leadership of Health Care Organizations: the Abbott Laboratories Case

We just posted about some misbehavior by Abbott Laboratories: a physician Abbott paid as a "key opinion leader" to help market its cardiac stents was accused of inserting stents in many patients who had no need for them; Abbott settled for over $400 million a lawsuit alleging the company defrauded Medicare and Medicaid; and it settled an unrelated suit for over $40 million alleging the company paid kickbacks to physicians for prescribing its drugs.  I thus thought it would be interesting to see how well paid are the corporate leaders who presided over these activities, and who are the board members who were supposed to be providing stewardship of this company.

According to the company's 2010 proxy statement, the five highest-paid executives were:

Miles D White, Chairman of the Board and CEO - $26,213,966 total compensation
Thomans C Freyman, Executive Vice President, Finance, and CFO - $9,561,227
Olivier Bohuon, Executive Vice President, Abbott Pharmaceutica Group - $5,232,589
Laura J Schumacher, Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary - $5,724,060
James V Mazzo, Senior Vice President, Abbott Medical Optics - $10,394,085

Now, let us turn to the company's board of directors.  Note that I looked for board members who also held leadership positions in other health care organizations whose interests may not be aligned with the corporation.  I also looked for those who held leadership positions in the discredited financial services corporation who helped usher in the global financial collapse.  (I  used similar methodolgy here.)

Abbott currently has 12 board members, including
  • Robert J Alpert MD - Ensign Professor of Medicine, Professor of Internal Medicine, and Dean of the Yale School of Medicine.  He also "serves as a Director on the Board of Yale-New Haven Hospital."
  • Roxanne S Austin - President and Chief Executive Officer, Move Networks Inc, and President, Austin Investment Advisors
  • William M Daley -"Vice Chairman and Head of the Office of Corporate Responsibility and Chairman of the Midwest, JP Morgan Chase & Co."  He is the board of directors of  "Loyola University of Chicago and Northwestern University."
  • W James Farrell - Retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Illinois Tool Works Inc
  • H Laurence Fuller - Retired Co-Chairman of BP Amoco, former chief executive officer of Amoco
  • William A Osborne - Retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Northern Trust Corporation and the Northern Trust Company.  He is "Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Northwestern University."
  • Rt Honorable Lord Owen - Chairman of Europe Steel Ltd
  • Roy S Roberts - Managing Director, Reliant Equity Investors.
  • Samuel C Scott III - Retired Chairman,  President and Chief Executive Officer of Corn Products International.  He "currently serves on the board of directors of Bank of New York Mellon Corporation."  He also is on the board of "Northwestern Healthcare."
  • William D Smithburg - Retired Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Quaker Oats Company.  He is on the "board of trustees of Northwestern University."
  • Glenn F Tilton - Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of UAL Corporation and United Airlines Inc.  He is on the "board of directors of Northwestern Memorial Hospital."
  • Miles D White - Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Abbott Laboratories, "is on the board of trustees of "Northwestern University." 

Of Abbott's 12 directors, seven have leadership positions at teaching hospitals, academic medical centers, medical schools or their parent universities (Northwestern University, its medical school and teaching hospitals, in particular, are stewarded by six Abbott directors). 

Two have leadership positions in  financial services corporations that were implicated in the global financial collapse.  (Note that JP Morgan Chase staffers helped to invent some of the kinds of financial derivatives widely viewed as causative of the collapse, but the firm itself did not fail. [See Tett G. Fool's Gold.]  Through TARP, the US government took preferred equity stakes in both JP Morgan Chase and Bank of New York Mellon.  [See Ritholtz B.  Bailout Nation. p. 222]) 

Two more are leaders of financial services firms.  All but one are current or former high-level hired executives (seven are or were CEOs), or chairpersons or co-chair persons of corporations (the one exception is a dean of a medical school.) 

Note how similar our findings were here to those found after our perusal of the boards of Genzyme and Medtronic (see post here).   So we find again that executives of health care organizations who preside over various questionable activities not only rarely pay any penalty, but usually become extremely wealthy in the process.

We also find how interconnected is the leadership of health care.  The boards and leadership of drug and device companies overlap with the boards and leadership of medical schools, teaching hospitals, and their parent universities. 

Yet, as we have noted before, there are obvious conflicts.  In particular, teaching hospitals and medical schools are supposed to provide unbiased teaching, including about issues relevant to drug and device corporations, such as choice of diagnostic strategies and treatments, and relevant health policy.  They are supposed to perform unbiased research, including research that evaluates drugs and devices.  They are supposed to provide the best possible patient care at a reasonable cost, which relates to choices of and prices paid for drugs and devices. 

On the other hand, drug and device companies are supposed to put making a profit for their share-holders first.  The directors of such companies, like the directors of all for-profit corporations, are supposed to show an unyielding loyalty to their companies' financial health and profits, although contemporary corporate directors have been accused of acting more like cronies of the hired management.  (See this post.)

Also, we note that the vast majority of people chosen as stewards of a given health care organization are current or former top hired executives of other corporations.  The board members, that is, stewards of health care organizations, to whom the top hired executives reports, are usually not people with large ownership interests in the organizations (in the case of public, for-profit corporations.)  For the most part, they also do not seem to be people with clearly demonstrated devotion to the values of health care, in particular, putting the care of individual patients first, and advancing health care teaching and research.  Instead, they seem to be people with the perspective of hired executives, who may be prone to putting the interests of hired executives, rather than patients, doctors, teachers, scientists or the public at large, first.

So here is another admittedly limited case study of the board of directors, that is, the ostensible stewards of a health care corporation, selected this time because of its history of ethical missteps, which showed  - that the leadership of health care organizations is incredibly interrelated, interlocked, incestuous.  Again, it appears that top leaders of various health care organizations may be more familiar with and identify more with each other, and with other hired executives and managers, than with their organizations, their organizations' missions, and their organizations' professionals, staff, students, clients, and patients.

So to repeat-

I strongly believe that there needs to be much more investigation, academic, journalistic, and perhaps legal, of the identity, nature, and culture of the leaders of health care, and their relationships. A few bloggers cannot do it all. Obviously, the anechoic effect mitigates against medical and health care academics looking into their own leaders. However, failing to understand who is leading our march to the brink of health care failure ought not to be something such academics would want on their conscience.

Finally, and obviously, health care organizations need leaders that uphold the core values of health care, and focus on and are accountable for the mission, not on secondary responsibilities that conflict with these values and their mission, and not on self-enrichment. Leaders ought to be rewarded reasonably, but not lavishly, for doing what ultimately improves patient care, or when applicable, good education and good research.

If we do not fix the severe problems affecting the leadership and governance of health care, and do not increase accountability, integrity and transparency of health care leadership and governance, we will be as much to blame as the leaders when the system collapses.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oft times the relationships are circular. Y who reports to X at Organization 1 is on the board of 2 and the CEO of 2 is on the board of 1.

This is especially useful when a CEO (or like) has a report who is on a Journal Oversight Board where the Editor is on the Board of the Executive.