Sunday, August 05, 2018

Ill-informed, Mission-Hostile Health Care Leadership... in the White House and the US Department of Health and Human Services

Introduction - What Has Gone Wrong with the Leadership of Health Care Organizations

A major focus of Health Care Renewal has been problems in leadership and governance of health care organizations, which we believe became major causes of health care dysfunction.  For example, we have discussed how leadership is often ill-informed.  More and more people leading non-profit, for-profit and government health care organizations have had no training or experience in actually caring for patients, or in biomedical, clinical or public health research as professional managers largely supplanted health care professionals as leaders of health care organizations.  This is part of a societal wave of "managerialism."  Most organizations are now run by such generic managers, rather than people familiar with the particulars of the organizations' work.  Obviously health care and health policy decisions made by ill-informed people are likely to have detrimental effects on patients' and the public's health.

Through 2016, our examples of ill-informed leadership in health care tended to be executives of hospital systems (e..g.,in 2014, here, on the mishandling of a patient with Ebola in a hospital system led by generic managers; and in 2013, here, on a luxurious hospital led by a former hotel executive).  Others were top executives of pharmaceutical corporations (e.g., in 2011, here, on previous Pfizer CEOs).

We have also discussed mission-hostile management, which in many cases has been demonstrated by ill-informed leadership.

Physicians professional values require them to put the interests of their individual patients ahead of all else, including the physicians' self interest.  The AMA Principles of Medical Ethics, for example, includes

A physician shall, while caring for a patient, regard responsibility to the patient as paramount.

Similarly, in health policy and public health, the goal ought to be putting the health of patients as a group, and the public at large, ahead of other considerations.

However, we have often discussed how leaders of large health organizations seemed to put other considerations ahead of individual patients', patients' collectively, or the public's health.  Most of those examples of mission-hostile management involved putting organizational finances, or the leaders' own self-interest ahead of patients' and the public's health.  For example, in 2017 we discussed a New York hospital CEO who seemed to put revenue generation in support of his own very generous paycheck ahead of quality of care and patient safety (look here).  Also, the revered Mayo Clinic seemed to let patients with more remunerative commercial insurance coverage get attention before poor patients who have only government insurance, despite its stated mission "providing the best care to every patient" (look here).  Before November, 2016, our examples of mission-hostile management were mainly from hospitals and health systems, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical, biotechnology and device companies.

But since November, 2016, the most vivid cases we have found of ill-informed and/or mission-hostile management have come from the US federal government, run by the Trump regime. Note that Mr Trump himself has a bachelors degree in business administration, but no experience as a government leader prior to his election.

New cases continue to arise, while old cases continue to fester. In chronological order based on date of reporting,...

Taylor Weyeneth, Former Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of National Drug Control Policy 

We first discussed the hapless Mr Weyeneth in April, 2018.  At the time he was appointed to a position in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Mr Weyeneth was 23, had recently finished his bachelor's degree, and had previously worked as a legal assistant.  He rose to be Deputy Chief of Staff, before he was moved to another job.

In June, 2018, the Washington Post published a long article on Mr Weyeneth's brief government career.  It noted how rapidly at first he rose through the ranks:

Weyeneth received six promotions in the campaign and administration. They culminated with his appointment as deputy chief of staff at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, where he oversaw veteran employees and helped steer an operation that was supposed to lead the fight against the opioid epidemic.

The main reason for his rise seemed to be politics, not any particular qualifications. The White House office of personnel:

wanted someone loyal to Trump and his policies in a position of authority, at a time when the office had lost most of its political appointees and had no leader, Weyeneth said.

Weyeneth had worked on the Trump campaign, starting as an intern, rapidly rising to coordinator of interns, then coordinator for national voter services.  He joined the Trump transition team in an administrative role which included '"helping staff with travel arrangements."  In these roles, he was tasked with determining political loyalty.  For the campaign he created "a list of Republican lawmakers and political figures who openly supported Trump."  For the transition team, he "helped compile a list of trusted politicians who could serve on the 'beachhead teams' that would flood federal agencies in the days and weeks after Trump's inaguration."  We had noted  here various ill-informed, and/or conflicted appointments to the beachhead teams that operated in the health care sphere.  Mr Weyeneth subsequently joined the beachhead team for the Treasury Department.  From there he jumed to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.  Then he became Deputy Chief of Staff, third in command of that agency.

There is nothing in his background to suggest he had any knowledge of medicine, health care, biomedical science, public health, or biomedical science, related or not to drug use.  He did seem to realize how unqualified he was for this job:

'This is more than I ever dreamed of,' Weyeneth recalled thinking, even as he worried about a possible backlash over his lack of qualifications: 'Have I reached too far? Is public opinion going to take over? Is this going to become an article?'
Thus he seemed to realize that he was a profoundly ill-informed leader.

Meanwhile, though, he seemed to have a role in spying on, and ensuring the political loyalty, if not the competence of Office of National Drug Control Policy career staff

The White House tasked him with reporting back on the ­ONDCP operations and the activities of its acting director, a career bureaucrat, Weyeneth said.

That would seem to be an example of mission-hostile management, since government employees are supposed to uphold the US Constitution and work for all the people, and those in health care have an obligation to put patients' and the public's health first.

 In any case, after the media discovered his lack of qualifications, he soon was gone.

Today, Weyeneth is doing temp work, including outdoor labor for a contractor at an intelligence agency.

Ximena Barreto, Former Deputy Director Of Communications, Office Of The Assistant Secretary For Public Affairs,, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)

We first discussed Ms Barreto in late April, 2018, here.  She was appointed to a responsible position of leadership in communications for DHHS.  Note that the mission of DHHS currently is:

to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans, by providing for effective health and human services and by fostering sound, sustained advances in the sciences underlying medicine, public health, and social services.
Nonetheless, her previous experience was as an extreme right-wing political commentator who regularly impugned African-Americans and Muslims.  She had talked about hanging former Presidents Clinton and Obama, and accused the latter of being a "Muslim terrorist."

Thus she seemed likely to be a remarkably mission-hostile leader.  Furthermore, there is no evidence she had any background or experience in medicine, health care, biomedical science, public health, or health policy.  Instead, it appears that she was appointed for no reason other than her extreme political beliefs.

In fact, a CNN article from June 22 indicated that Ms Barreto listed her previous on-line career, which would have included some of the postings listed above, on her resume, and hence posited them as qualifications for her leadership position at DHHS.

A copy of Barreto's resume, obtained by CNN on Thursday through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows she listed her previous conspiratorial work on her resume as a qualification for the communication position.

The resume noted her work from June 2017 through the present on 'The Right View' and on the Halsey News Network -- YouTube shows she co-hosted where she said Islam was 'a cult and said the Republican Party shouldn't allow a Muslim to run for Congress.

Another portion of her resume noted her work as a writer for the conspiracy-driven website 'Borderland Alternative Media' from April 2017 to the present. Barreto notes in description the website was funded by 'Joe Biggs, ex-InfoWars journalist' who himself repeatedly pushed the false Pizzagate conspiracy.
So she too was a profoundly ill-informed leader.

By June, she had been suspended, and then demoted, but still seemingly held a responsible position at DHHS.  After her extreme reviews became public, on June 21, 2018, the Mediate website reported 

Health and Human Services official Ximena Barreto publicly apologized recently for her 'heated and hyper-passionate' tweets on race and far-right conspiracies, after they were reported on by CNN.


After her apology, Barreto, who worked as a far-right media personality before joining HHS in December 2017, was allowed to keep her Trump administration job — albeit, with a demotion from her old deputy director of communications post.

In that capacity

She made her Twitter account private ..... But on that now-private account, she’s been unapologetic — recently calling the reports exposing her fringe views a 'smear campaign.'

Mediaite conducted an extensive review of her social media posts and found that the HHS appointee pushed the baseless Pizzagate conspiracy theory even more than previously reported. Her tweets include smearing former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta as 'a pedophile,' accusing Democrats of hosting 'Pedophile dinners,' and claiming liberals abuse children during satanic rituals.

Remember, this is the former Deputy Director of Communications for DHHS who was still in a leadership position, albeit one whose nature was unclear.

The Department of Health and Human Services and Barreto were contacted repeatedly via email and phone for comment, but did not respond. After this reporter asked for comment, Barreto shut down her private Twitter account and deleted her tweet calling the CNN articles on her views a 'smear campaign.'

Further gory details of her previous online posting are describe in the Mediate article.

Despite all this, Ms Barreto hung onto her DHHS position for more than a month. On July 27, 2018, Politco finally reported:

Ximena Barreto — a Donald Trump political appointee who used social media to spread conspiracy theories about a supposed pizza shop sex ring and made other inflammatory remarks — was escorted from Health and Human Services Department headquarters Friday, according to an individual with knowledge of the situation.

Barreto resigned, the individual said. HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gavin Smith, Former Deputy Director of Communications, DHHS; David Pasch, Digital Director, DHHS; Tim Clark, Former White House Liaison and Interim Director of  Communications, DHHS

The issue with Ximena Barreto was her activities prior to taking a leadership position at DHHS.  However, on June 29, 2018, Politico reported on several DHHS officials who had been publishing pointed political opinions on the internet while in office.  It opened with

One staffer publicly mocked senators who criticized Donald Trump as 'clueless' and 'crazy.' Another accused Hillary Clinton of having a campaign aide killed and employing pedophiles. A third wrote the 'shameful' press was trying to deny Trump his victories.

These are not faceless trolls but midlevel political appointees at the Health and Human Services Department who have helped shape the agency’s communications strategy — even while taking a page out of President Donald Trump’s playbook.

Politico summarized how this might be mission-hostile management.

The behavior evokes Trump’s taunts and gibes, suggesting that some officials feel empowered to mimic the president even while representing the government to millions of taxpayers and working alongside career federal employees.

Again, as noted above, DHHS is supposed to work for all the people, not just the political allies of the current administration.  Furthermore, because these activities were by people within the government, there was an immediate legal question.

It also raises questions about whether any officials are violating the Hatch Act, which is intended to ban most federal personnel from bringing politics into the workplace.
Further details about each individual case follow.

Gavin Smith

One official involved was "Gavin Smith, an HHS staffer who identifies himself as deputy communications director."  His interests focused on pursuing Republicans who had opposed Trump in some sense.  His offerings on Twitter included the following directed to Republican Senator Bob Corker, who has frequently disagreed with Trump:

Just saw where Crazy @BobCorker called the #TrumpTrain a 'cult! Let's be clear sir, we're not a cult — we're a movement that defeated Crooked @HillaryClinton and that's committed to ridding Washington of politicians like you. Good riddance — DC will be better off with you!
Other Tweets included:

'Well, we've always known he's clueless,' Smith said, retweeting a quote about Sen. Lindsey Graham, and in another tweet telling the Republican senator to 'delete your account.' Other Smith tweets mocked Mitt Romney as a “clown” and encouraged all living ex-presidents 'to finally pipe down and get on board with the will of the #American people to #MAGA!

'Getting your ass kicked once just wasn't enough for you, was it @JohnKasich? Lookin' forward to Round Two! #MAGA' Smith tweeted in response to reports that the Ohio governor was considering a 2020 presidential bid. Meanwhile, Smith has waded into politics in his home state of South Carolina, including sharing an article about him possibly challenging a sitting House representative and repeatedly weighing in on local issues.

'Perhaps the South Carolina legislature will finally listen to @TreasurerLoftis — or will they make yet another bad deal on behalf of the #SC taxpayers?' Smith wrote in December, referencing a failed energy project. 'Make no mistake legislators, we are watching you. Each and every one of you.'

Smith's pinned tweet, posted last Saturday and retweeted hundreds of times, features a photo of Smith behind a Trump-emblazoned podium and endorses South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster for reelection.
Note that #MAGA stands for Trump's campaign slogan, not an official US government policy.

So Smith was again acting like his job was to promote Trump's politics, not patients' and the public's health.  So he was at least a mission-indifferent leader.

Smith's LinkedIn profile claimed he, unlike Ms Barreto, actually had a background in communications/ public relations.  His other positions ranged from managing in a real estate firm and a deli, and various political jobs.  A managerialist might have deemed him qualified.  However, he provides no evidence of any background or experience in medicine, health care, biomedical science, public health or health policy. Thus he was another ill-informed leader.

The Politico article quoted one expert who suggested that Smith's Tweets might have been illegal

Government transparency experts said that some of Smith’s tweets could violate the Hatch Act’s prohibitions on executive branch employees engaging in partisan messages, pointing to February 2018 guidance released by the Office of Special Counsel.

'The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity, including posting on Twitter or Facebook, while on duty or in the federal workplace,' said Daniel Stevens of the Center for Accountability. 'If James posted comments regarding McMaster while in a federal building or during his work hours, he likely violated the Hatch Act.'

David Pasch

The article included a picture to illustrate how

David Pasch, who ran HHS’ digital communications until this month, regularly parked his car — with 'FAKENWS' vanity license plates — outside of agency headquarters.

Pasch also had a

Facebook profile photo also touts an image of him with the message 'fake news.'

Pasch's LinkedIn profile only included political jobs.  One was with an organization called  Generation Opporunity. A 2015 Politico article stated

Generation Opportunity, a libertarian-leaning group with ties to the Koch brothers, released a series of ads featuring 'Creepy Uncle Sam' to discourage young people from enrolling. But this season, the group is putting its energy into other issues like higher education and unemployment, said communications director David Pasch.

We had posted about the Creepy Uncle Sam ads as examples of stealth health care policy advocacy that encouraged bad decision making.  So Mr Pasch seemed to be a classically ill-informed leader, whose previous work on "Creepy Uncle Sam" suggests he was mission hostile as well.
And just to gild the lilly, while Pasch's disclosures of possible financial conflicts of interest per ProPublica are not too striking, an easy Google search revealed one possibly significant conflict of interest that he did not reveal, albeit on involving his spouse.  Per their marriage announcement in the New York Times from 2017,

The bride’s father is the chairman, president and chief executive of Sanderling Healthcare in Nashville. He was also the founder of REN Corporation-USA, a provider of dialysis services.

Tim Clark

The Politico article stated

Tim Clark, the agency's White House liaison who also served as HHS' interim communications chief this year, in 2016 sent tweets sharing allegations that Hillary Clinton's campaign paid people to incite violence at Trump's rallies, based on a hidden-camera video produced by Project Veritas' James O'Keefe. Democrats disputed the charge and distanced themselves from the individuals in the edited video.

'Wikileaks & O'Keefe video shows Hillary blatantly disregards election laws,' Clark tweeted in October 2016, while he was California director for the Trump campaign.'"Election must be free & fair.'

Clark also repeatedly used a #SpiritCooking hashtag to promote his pro-Trump tweets, referencing allegations about Clinton campaign chief John Podesta engaging in Satanic practices, based on an email forwarded to Podesta's brother Tony and obtained by WikiLeaks. The term 'spirit cooking' was used by artist Marina Abramović, who was hosting a dinner and invited the Podestas, and in November 2016 said the term was "taken completely out of my context ... it was just a normal dinner."

Clark's Twitter account is now private.
Clark seems likely to have been mission-hostile because of his apparent hostility to various groups within the US population whom he was obligated to serve while at DHHS.

Because he has a very common name, searching did not reveal much specific information about Clark's background, but a subsequent article on July 13, in Politico that noted his and Smith's departure, stated, 

Clark was the California chairman of Trump's campaign and became the health department's chief liaison with the White House, a crucial gatekeeper for the agency's policies and staffing. Clark worked to hire and protect a number of Trump campaign veterans who were allowed to remain on the job after their social media posts became public, according to multiple sources inside the agency.

These included Ms Barreto. I found nothing to suggest Mr Clark had any experience or expertise in medicine, health care, biomedical science, public health, or health policy.  So he was an ill-informed leader as well

Again, per the July 13 article, Clark and Smith have left DHHS.


So our knowledge of cases of ill-informed and mission-hostile leadership of health care agencies within the US government increases.  As we stated in April,

We have noted, most recently here, how the current Trump administration has been appointing many people without any qualifications in biomedical science, health care, or public health to leadership positions in health and public health agencies.  Obviously health care and health policy decisions made by ill-informed people coule have detrimental effects on patients' and the public's health.

Worse, it now seems that some ill-informed appointments have more nefarious purposes, including the subversion of the mission of these health related agencies.  The group of leaders discussed above seem to be hostile to the notion that health care and public health should serve all people, regardless of their religious beliefs, race, ethnicity, or sex.

Furthermore, they seem to be undermining fundamental principles of US government enshrined in the Constitution, including prohibiting the government from establishing a religion or preventing the free expression of any religion, and equal application of the laws and provision of due process to all people, again regardless of their religious beliefs, race, ethnicity or sex.

We have been writing about health care dysfunction since 2003, and publishing this blog since 2004.  A major concern all along has been how threats to health care professionals' core values generate  health care dysfunction.  Up through 2016, these threats came principally from large private health care organizations.  While the US government was not always as good at defending these values as it could have been, at least it rarely presented its own set of active threats.  Under Trump, that situation has been changing for the worse.  This is obviously hugely dangerous, (and made more so by the regime's threats to other core values of US society, to US law, and the US Constitution.)

To prevent the decline and fall of US health care, and maybe the entire US experiment in representative democracy, health care professionals, academics, patients and citizens concerned about health care will have to join up with the larger populace to defend our core values while they still have any force.   

1 comment:

Judy B said...

These are very scary times! I hope the Trump supporters wake up soon and see him as he really is...