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How Healthy Is Broward Health?

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The abrupt public firing of Broward Health interim CEO Pauline Grant, the resignation of Broward Health board member Sheela VanHoose and a postponement of Broward Health’s search for a permanent CEO has raised questions about the future of the hospital district.

By Richard Rosser & Danielle Charbonneau
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Broward Health is no stranger to controversy: the chain of hospitals has a long history of questionable behavior and suspect happenings including FBI investigations, embezzlement and fraud charges, no-bid contracts with advertising firms and the January 2016 suicide of Broward Health’s CEO Dr. Nabil El Sanadi (see timeline below for details).

Most recently, a series of leadership decisions, including the abrupt public firing of interim CEO Pauline Grant on accusations of violating anti-kickback policies (allegations she denies), has raised questions about the direction Broward Health and their board is headed. Those skeptical of these decisions — people like former Broward Health board member and Lighthouse Point native Maureen Canada (who chose not to renew her board seat in the heat of such controversy but was, untraditionally, squeezed out without a replacement by Governor Rick Scott), are suspicious, suspecting a power play may be in progress.

“Somebody wants to make Broward Health look bad,” Canada said, getting right to the point as we sat down to lunch at the Nauti Dawg in Lighthouse Point. Her empathetic demeanor and passion for the topic was obvious, as was her confusion. This confusion is at the heart of dozens of media reports including a recent editorial in the Sun Sentinel, which criticized the board’s firing of Grant.

Many believe Grant, who has worked in the hospital system for decades and was months from retirement, was fired in clear violation of the Sunshine Law (which prohibits government officials from making decisions behind closed doors, then announcing them in public). Grant and many at the board meeting at which Grant was fired, were blindsided by her abrupt termination, which was led by Broward Health General Counsel Lynn Barrett. Barrett had hired two outside law firms to conduct an investigation, which alleged that Grant had helped a physician who wanted to get on the on-call schedule in 2015 while she had been CEO of Broward Health North. The allegation was that the hospital, not Grant herself, profited. No specifics were given whatsoever at the board meeting in which Grant was fired in a four-to-one vote. Grant insisted there was no substance to the completely out-of-the-blue allegation and has filed a law suit for what she claims as a wrongful termination, violation of the Sunshine Law and damage to her reputation.

Canada was the only commissioner (out of five) at the meeting to vote against Grant’s dismissal.

“I don’t think this board should prosecute or condemn or be hasty to make decisions or judgments about our CEO who has been employed by this district for many, many years, is a woman of integrity, professionalism and someone that I have admired and have had the pleasure to work with for the past two years,” Canada said in an interview the Sun Sentinel.

Canada said hospital staff was heartbroken by the decision.

“Not at the allegations,” she said, “because no one gives them any merit. They are heartbroken that Pauline is the victim of corruption.”

Though Canada was the only dissenting member on the board at the time of the termination vote, another board member who was not in attendance, Sheela VanHoose, immediately led an effort to reverse the decision. Approximately 350 people showed up to support the reversal. That effort failed.

“This board is pretty set in how they are going to run the district,” said VanHoose in an interview with the Sun Sentinel in January 2017. “They do everything Lynn Barett says. Even the pomp and circumstance of flying in an outside lawyer from Alabama just to read the law to them. That to me shows it’s just about spinning the story. They had no intention of listening to the public.”

Following her failed effort, VanHoose resigned from the board by letter to Governor Rick Scott on December 23. In the letter she writes:

“As I look back on my short tenure, the time has been marked by both proud moments and tumultuous strife…This board has been impulsive at times, holding last minute meetings and receiving contracts before votes. We have approved contracts with questionable metrics and have made decisions that have led to a Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA). Our board meetings have been tainted by self-serving and political agendas coated with infighting and grandstanding. These problems at Broward Health are not isolated to any one point in time. The issues at Broward Health historically have stemmed from the top, either due to an overtly political board or poor advisement. I am not the first Commissioner to publicly talk about these problems and I will not be the last. Our community deserves better.”

Postponing the Search for CEO

Since October, the board seems to have temporarily aborted, postponed or kept quiet their search for a permanent CEO. The board had paid an outside recruiting agency roughly $300,000 to conduct a search for the permanent CEO. According to Canada, the board had narrowed down the search to three promising final candidates after interviewing six semi-finalists in the September/October timeframe.

“Two of those three got four votes from the five board members,” she said. “I would have been thrilled to have either of those top two as the district CEO.”

But when the date for the final decision came around (which was set for October 31) , Canada recalls board member Christopher Ure saying “I was really hoping we would have had more candidates.” Then Rocky Rodriquez, the chairman, wanted to interview someone he’d heard about. Canada was baffled. She couldn’t make sense of the stall.

The search now seems to be up-in-the-air as after Grant was terminated the board re-appointed interim CEO Kevin Fusco who had already served as interim CEO immediately following El Sanadi’s suicide but was let go after complaints that he ruled with a culture of fear. He was replaced by Grant.

The back-and-forth has raised many questions. Canada has her suspicions about people involved behind the scenes. Although she has never met him, Canada added “Billy Rubin’s name keeps coming up as someone very interested in the district.”

Billy Rubin is a lobbyist currently registered to represent 62 clients before Governor Scott and executive branch agencies including health care heavyweights Aetna, Humana, Coventry Healthcare and Governor Rick Scott’s own former company, Columbia/HCA Healthcare. Before becoming governor, Rick Scott was known for having made a fortune in the healthcare industry. He founded Columbia at age 34 in 1987 and acquired HCA in 1989. He left in 1997 when Columbia/HCA admitted to fourteen felonies including false billing and fraudulent Medicare billing practices and agreed to pay the federal government a $600 million settlement, which was the largest fraud settlement in U.S. history.

Columbia/HCA currently operates over 40 hospitals throughout Florida including local facilities Westside Regional Medical Center in Plantation, JFK Medical Center in West Palm and Northwest Medical Center in Margate.

Rubin was one of the first supporters of Governor Scott and his candidacy for election.

“I got to know Rick in 1991 when he started his hospital company and we’ve stayed close ever since. I love him,” Rubin said in an article in the Miami Herald in November 2010. “He’s a very good friend. We’ve stayed in touch ever since.”

Neither Scott nor Rubin have been shy about their friendship. The relationship has, however, raised public speculation.

Ultimately Canada has no conclusion on what exactly is taking place at Broward Health, but she hopes to help advocate for the district residents in whatever capacity she can. The well-connected Broward Workshop organization of business and civic leaders has recently approached her to discuss strategies to help the besieged hospital district.

“I’m hoping to be on the other side of the podium now that my work on the board is done,” she said.

Broward Health Timeline

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December 2016

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