Two of Fort Wayne's most prominent business leaders have resigned from the boards of Lutheran Health Network and Lutheran Hospital in protest of the turmoil that has gripped the institutions in the wake of an unsuccessful buy-out bid last month.
In a letter sent Thursday to network CEO Michael Poore and Dr. Mark King, president of the LHN and Lutheran Hospital Board, a copy of which was obtained by The News-Sentinel, Sweetwater Sound founder Chuck Surack said that despite his “incredible respect and fondness for the many amazing doctors, nurses,” he was leaving the boards effective immediately because “I cannot agree with or condone what has happened to so many great people in our hospitals. I am incredulous as to how such caring and talented individuals like Brian Bauer, Aaron Garofola, Ozzie Mitson, Dr. Randolph, Dr. Scavo, Dr. Orlow, and many others have been treated and the impact this treatment will have on their careers and lives, as well as the network and our community in general.”
Tom Kelley, head of the Kelley Automotive Group, had not yet officially resigned but said he intends to do so.
"I'm so frustrated. We're an advisory board, but if they're not going to listen to us, what's the point?" Kelley said. "I talked to Wayne Smith (CEO of LHN owner Community Health Systems of Nashville) and got nowhere. He made it clear it was 'my way or the highway.' It's a shame, and nothing good can come from it."
Bauer, former CEO, was fired last month after CHS rejected a $2.4 billion offer from a group led by a local physicians group. Garofola was fired as CEO of Dupont Hospital; Dr. Geoff Randolph was fired as LHN's chief medical officer; Dr. Steven W. Orlow, Lutheran Hospital's chief medical information officer, resigned; and Vincent Scavo Jr., who had been listed as principal of Fort Wayne Physicians, will not have his LHN contract renewed. Mitson, director of governmental affairs, resigned just last week.
Bauer and Mitson are currently using offices at Sweetwater, but Surack said they are not working for his company.
Surack wrote that be believes “the recent actions taken by CHS are not in the best interest of Lutheran Health Network, this community, and the people we serve. I cannot stand idly by and support CHS any longer.”
“I have no ill will for CHS, we just have different philosophies about how to run a company and be successful,” Surack told The News-Sentinel. “Some amazing people have been hurt, and I couldn't stand idly by and not say something. That would imply that I agree (with what's happening), and I don't.”
Surack said he has no immediate plans to withdraw Sweetwater's employee health plan from Lutheran, and hopes he won't have to in the future. Kelley said he would also consider such a move. "I have 350 employees; Chuck has 1,000. Fort Wayne needs competition, and I don't want to see Lutheran become a 'C' hospital."
In a statement released earlier this month, CHS and the 10-member Fort Wayne Physicians LLC, which led the buyout attempt, announced the physicians group had been disbanded and that the company and local doctors and employees would work to continue quality health care and mend fences. Many doctors, however, subsequently said the physicians group was dissolved after its members were threatened with litigation.
Surack said his confidence in local doctors and other LHN employees “is why I happily and with pride agreed many years ago to serve on these boards. My resignation in no fashion should reflect badly on them.”
Many LHN doctors and executives have said CHS has not adequately invested in local hospitals, transferring profits made here to subsidize operations elsewhere.