May 12, 2006
By HILARY WALDMAN, Courant Staff Writer
After a five-month national search, Connecticut Children's Medical Center on Thursday chose a new leader from within as the troubled hospital attempts to heal itself.
The hospital board of directors named Martin J. Gavin president and chief executive officer, a position he has held on an acting basis since January.
Gavin stepped into the post when longtime President and CEO Larry Gold resigned amid criticism from the state Department of Public Health that management lapses at the hospital in Hartford had jeopardized patient safety.
The hospital is now completing the first half of a two-year probation period imposed by the health department after procedural lapses that the department said could have contributed to the deaths of three children.
State Health Commissioner J. Robert Galvin called Gavin "an excellent choice." Galvin said improvements have been made so rapidly under Gavin's stewardship that the health department is considering lifting the probationary period early.
Gavin, 56, has had a long relationship with the children's hospital, but his professional experience does not include any work with hospitals or the medical field.
Before retiring in 2000 at age 50, Gavin held executive posts in financial management for The Phoenix Companies Inc. in Hartford and CNA insurance companies in Chicago.
"We did not think the job required someone who had medical training," Galvin said, noting that the new hospital president and CEO has been tremendously successful in his career as a businessman and financier.
"The two qualities we wanted to see were the ability to understand the structure and function of the organization and the ability to understand finance," Galvin said.
Gavin was named chairman of the board of the new Connecticut Children's Medical Center when it opened in April 1996 and served in that post through a rocky period when financial missteps during the planning and early operations threatened the hospital's future.
He left the board in 2000 but returned in September 2005, when the latest patient safety issues came to light and the hospital was again under tremendous pressure to make management changes.
At the time, Gavin was named co-chairman of an oversight committee charged with implementing sweeping improvements to the hospital's facilities and procedures. Dr. Peter Deckers, dean of the University of Connecticut Medical School, is the co-chairman.
When Gold resigned, the hospital embarked on a national search for a replacement that yielded 19 applicants and three finalists - one a physician and all with experience managing children's hospitals.
But by the time the search wrapped up in late April, it became clear that Gavin was the one everybody wanted.
On April 26, Gavin was sharing a glass of wine with his wife, Kathy, who had just returned from a business trip, when the telephone rang in their Avon home. Gavin was looking forward to starting a new financial services business with a friend and traveling back and forth to New Zealand to watch his 14-month-old grandson grow up.
Edward Lewis, chairman of the hospital board, knew of Gavin's plans when he dialed his number, but he had to give it a shot. "I said, `Marty, do you want this job?'" Lewis recalled. To his surprise, Gavin said yes.
"I love this job," Gavin said Thursday. "My wife said she's never seen me happier."
Children's hospital employees erupted in applause when Gavin's appointment was announced at a meeting Thursday morning, said hospital spokesman Thomas Hanley.
In the five months since Gavin took the helm, the hospital has implemented many of the improvements demanded by the health department, including:
Installing $2 million worth of digital equipment in the emergency room to ensure that X-rays and other scans can be read quickly.
Hiring a new physician as chief of the emergency department. Dr. M.C. "Cub" Culbertson, acting emergency room director at Dallas Children's Hospital, is scheduled to start Aug. 1.
Completing a security system that tracks visitors, patients and staff throughout the hospital.
Adding $3 million a year to the emergency department budget to hire more nurses and doctors.
Installing an electronic medical records system.
Hospital leaders also persuaded the state legislature this year to almost double the state's contribution to the hospital's operating budget, from $7 million a year to $13 million a year, Gavin said. The money helps fill the gap left by underpayments from Medicaid, the state's health insurance program for needy families. About 40 percent of the children cared for at the children's hospital are on Medicaid.
In addition, the children's hospital is moving forward with a joint trauma program that would allow the children's hospital to share Level 1 trauma center status with neighboring Hartford Hospital.
Last September, when the health commissioner threatened to shut down the hospital if it did not improve, Galvin said he would not feel comfortable taking his grandchildren to Connecticut Children's Medical Center.
With Gavin in charge, that has changed, Galvin said. Two weeks ago, when his grandson needed an electrocardiogram, Galvin recommended that the heart scan be done at Connecticut Children's.
"I have the utmost confidence in Mr. Gavin and Dr. Deckers stepping up as they have," Galvin said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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