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Gold Quits CCMC Post

Says He's Stepping Down So Hospital Can Move Forward

January 7, 2006
By HILARY WALDMAN, Courant Staff Writer

Larry Gold, president and chief executive officer of Connecticut Children's Medical Center, resigned Friday, sending another aftershock through an institution that has been rocked by allegations that management and procedural lapses have jeopardized patient safety.

Gold's decision to step down followed months of turmoil that began last May, when the state Department of Public Health imposed a $250,000 fine and placed the hospital on probation, charging that communication gaps and policy flaws may have contributed to the deaths of three children in 2004 and 2005.

In September, complaining that the hospital was dragging its feet in making improvements, Public Health Commissioner J. Robert Galvin threatened to take steps to revoke the hospital's license if several conditions were not met by Nov. 15.

Hospital leaders came up with an ambitious plan of corrective action and appointed an internal oversight committee to implement the plan. Peter Deckers, the dean of the University of Connecticut Medical School, and Martin J. Gavin, the hospital's first chairman of the board, were put in charge of the oversight team.

With the plan in place, the health commissioner called off any immediate threat to try to close the 10-year-old children's hospital in Hartford.

Gold did not say Friday what he plans to do next. He declined a request to be interviewed. In a prepared statement, he suggested that his resignation was necessary to allow the hospital to move on.

"Though this was a difficult decision and one made after a great deal of deliberation, I am stepping back so that CCMC can continue to move forward to an exciting future," Gold said. "I believe that the new leadership will allow CCMC to leverage [an] opportunity to become even stronger and assume a national presence in the next decade."

Gavin, 55, who is retired from the financial services industry, Friday was named acting president and chief executive officer. Deckers, 64, became interim chief medical officer. A national search is in progress to find permanent replacements.

Deckers said he plans to spend two days a week at the children's hospital. His goal, he said, is to create "the safest, highest quality pediatric hospital in the land while not sacrificing its excellence of education in pediatric medicine."

Gavin said he has met with an executive search firm and hopes to have a new permanent chief operating officer in place within four months, although that timetable may be optimistic.

Gold spent Friday saying goodbye to hospital employees, many of them in tears. "It's a difficult day," said children's hospital spokesman Thomas Hanley.

Gold joined the children's hospital shortly after it opened in 1996 as its chief financial officer. Gavin, who was then chairman of the board, promoted him to the top spot a year later when a financial crisis threatened to topple the new hospital almost before it could make its mark.

"The finances and the planning for that children's hospital were absolutely horrific," said Dr. Robert Zavoski, the hospital's former medical director who is now medical director of Community Health Services, a public health clinic in Hartford. "He has managed to right that financial ship in some very tough times in the history of the state."

Gold, 53, who earlier spent 14 years at the helm of children's hospitals, first in Pittsburgh, and later in Peoria, Ill., quickly became one of the Hartford children's hospital's most ardent cheerleaders. He liked to lug a plastic bag full of miniature blood pressure cuffs to speaking engagements to illustrate his point that treating children is different from treating adults.

"He brings a tremendous amount of energy to telling the story of CCMC," said Ed Lewis, chairman of the medical center's board of directors. "He is revered for his fundraising and his ability to connect with people."

Alfreda Turner, president and chief executive officer of Charter Oak Health Center, another public health clinic in Hartford, said she was saddened by the news and called Gold "visionary." In May, Gold signed an agreement turning over management of the hospital's primary care clinic to the Charter Oak center. The deal gave children and their families access to mental health and dental care that they could not get at a hospital-run clinic.

Gold's down-to-earth leadership style won him affection among employees, and the hospital was well-regarded for its cancer care, its pediatric intensive care unit, its outpatient clinics for needy children, its openness to alternative and complementary medicine and its innovative programs for children with rare conditions, such as osteoporosis.

He was enjoying a highly successful tenure until last May when the state issued a 100-page report detailing communication lapses and management gaps that it said could have put patients in danger.

In one 2004 case detailed in the state report, a 15-year-old West Hartford boy died after emergency room personnel waited more than 90 minutes to read a chest X-ray that revealed clues of a heart injury that might have been repaired.

Another death, the state concluded, might have been prevented by tighter hospital security, and a third, in which a child died of an unrecognized complication of sickle cell disease, pointed up a lack of leadership in the emergency department, state regulators said.

The hospital's ambitious plan for correcting the gaps includes purchasing a digital imaging system that will allow X-rays and other scans to be read instantly at any hour of the day or night. It also includes appointing physician specialists to head every medical and surgical department, tightening security, increasing staffing and training in the emergency room, and improving supervision of physicians in training at the hospital.

Health department spokesman William Gerrish said Galvin is encouraged by the progress but is still not satisfied that the hospital has implemented enough safeguards to ensure maximum patient safety.

"The department has seen some progress toward improved hospital systems at CCMC," Gerrish said. "We still have areas of concern and see a need for further improvements."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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