Saturday, July 3, 2010


It was five years since my traumatic experience with my oncologist, Nicole Thompson, Dan Lewis, CEO of the Harvard-teaching hospital where it had taken place, and the many heartless players who had been involved. I had dealt successfully with the overwhelming despair resulting from this debacle. Moreover, I had finally received some satisfaction when I had named names in discussing my case on my radio show. Most importantly, my health was excellent and I had put my life back together.

However, occasionally it did bother me that I had never received any apologies from anyone at this institution and that no attention had been paid to my suffering there. Instead, all of the principals in this drama had gotten off scott free, facing no consequences whatsoever for their callousness and incompetency.

Then WHAM! out of the blue, a reporter at the Boston Globe filed a story that stripped away the "Mr. Nice Guy" image that Dan had crafted so carefully. Granted, this bit of information was hidden away in the back of the newspaper, but it was there nevertheless. Moreover, no one was saying what it was that Dan had done, but it was clear that he had tripped over his supreme ego one time too many, or has he put it, had a "lapse in judgment."

Therefore, the Board of Directors and the Board of Trustees could no longer deny his shenanigans or pretend that he was Mr. Integrity and an upright member of the Boston business community as they had in the past. At long last, they were forced to confront his misbehavior and take steps to discipline him.

Of course, for me this situation was validating, but, in many ways, it was too little, too late. The mental anguish that he and Nicole had put me through five years before had been very harrowing. Therefore, the fact that he had been revealed for who he was could not erase that experience or the haunting memories that went along with it. However, the negative publicity about him was a salve and it showed me once again that what goes around eventually really does come around.

Judging from the little bits of information that were filtering out from the media, it appeared that Dan was involved with a subordinate, but no one as yet knew the full details. It was clear, though, that like so many CEO's and politicians in the news lately, Dan thought that he was above the rules that applied to everyone else and that he could get away with anything. After all, wasn't he being paid more than one million dollars a year for running a hospital with a huge deficit?

It is true that Dan had done a great service for this non-profit institution by preventing its bankruptcy, improving its patient safety - although certainly not for me - and gaining accreditations that enhanced its position as a research institution, among other things. However, under Dan's watch, there were other egregious incidents besides mine which had hurt the hospital's reputation.

Like the employee who had recently embezzled more than a million dollars. Or the insurance executive who was Dan's close friend and, thus, was asked to sit on the Board. Talk about conflict of interest, but Dan's smooth talk had easily secured his friend a seat. Or the fact that every employee, except Dan, of course, had had to take a cut in pay, including the doctors, because of serious budget issues.

Then there were the hospital executives who received large salaries and other major perks, as well as stipends, for cell phones and parking during the same year that seventy employees were laid off. And the fact that this Harvard-teaching hospital is the only one in Boston and one of only fifteen in the U.S with a readmission rate worse than the national rate for heart attack, pneumonia and heart failure.

La Scandale broke out on March 15, 2010, when an anonymous letter was sent to the hospital board members, demanding action with regard to allegations about Dan. The letter was a shock to everyone because, as the Boston Herald reported, it had "colorful language and jaw-dropping metaphors and it depicted Lewis as an 'administrator whose personal issues distracted him from his fiscal duties.'"

The letter went on to state that since 2002, when Dan became CEO and three years before my clash with him, "hospital profits have plummeted" and "to cope with that reduced income, he cut pay benefits for lower wage workers, while bringing in high-paid executives to right the ship." Demanded the writer, "Where is the VP of Human Resources? Where is the General Counsel? Where is the Board of Directors? Do your job, please."

As the days went by, and more of the media were doing intense investigating, it became very apparent that Dan's relationship was a romantic one. Initially, most observers believed that this affair was only his business and his family's. However, once it was learned that he had brought it into the workplace, it became of great concern to the hospital, its employees and to the public.

According to the newspapers, Dan had met Shoshanna through the MIT Faculty/Student Advising Program. Shoshanna was 25 at the time, attractive, and determined to make a fast ascent up the corporate ladder. According to a Boston Globe columnist, she sized Dan up quickly and knew that, given his powerful position, he would be the perfect mentor for her. Thus, in a heartbeat, she approached him. At the time, Dan was 52, married and the father of two grown daughters.

According to this columnist, after enjoying a very fulfilling personal liaison, "he recruited her to work at the hospital...she worked as his special assistant and thereafter he moved her to a job as Chief of Staff and Director of Strategic Planning" for the hospital's suburban campus.

Later, because this situation became untenable, Shoshanna was forced to leave, although not without Dan's help. Through his largesse, she received a severance package of $30,000 based on a generous salary of $100,000 at the time of her exit, as well as a new position at MIT. What was especially egregious is that at the same time all the other employees at the hospital were taking a pay cut, but, again, not Dan, of course.

Even more shocking was that for many years the Board of Directors knew about Dan's relationship with Shoshanna and took no steps to stop it. Three different chairmen were advised of the circumstances and still took no action.

As explained to me by one of my colleagues, however, a hospital board is like almost all corporate boards in the United States. Most are not chosen to provide active oversight. Instead, their duties are only to fulfill statutory requirements and to rubber-stamp corporate operations. Unfortunately, board members usually have no comprehension about the latter.

According to my colleague, moreover, the chief job of the board of non-profits like this Harvard-teaching hospital is to reward financial generosity and to generate substantial pledges. Therefore, the board has a vested interest in maintaining appearances and keeping dirty laundry covered up. In short, its goal is not to rock the boat and, as a result, good governance is almost non-existent. What makes Dan's misbehavior especially hypocritical is that he has a blog where he often writes about the importance of transparency in corporations.

Afraid that the story would escalate further, Sandy King, the board chairman, called the Boston Globe and announced that the board had conducted a further inquiry and had "continued confidence" in Dan. What did that mean, though? Were they admitting the affair that was being discussed sub rosa throughout the Boston business community? Was there more to the story that had not as yet been revealed? No one was saying and speculation continued to increase. So toxic was the situation that Dan had to email an apology to hospital personnel. He said:

"Our Board recently received an anonymous letter concerning me and my actions as your CEO. The Board appropriately conducted a review of my tenure here and found an instance in which I exercised poor judgment. I agree that the Board's conclusion is accurate and I have apologized to them. I now also write to apologize to you for any discredit this brings upon our hospital and the excellent work you do."

Dan's apology did not staunch the interest in his story and soon, to exacerbate the matter, a second anonymous letter was sent. As Marianne Aiello of HealthLeaders Media wrote: "What I can't decide is why the board didn't just come out with it in the first place. Obviously, they believed the presumably salacious details would eventually come out, which is why they took preemptive measures in contacting the media. But is not spilling their guts helping anything? The hospital's internal rumor mill must be running faster than Goldman Sachs's executives wish they were from Capitol Hill."

Thus, with the media on full alert, all kinds of questions and comments were coming into the mix. Asked one Boston Globe columnist, "Isn't this abuse of power by a top executive who casts himself as a leader in the health, business and political community? If it is, why is he still a top executive?"

She went on, "How did the hospital executives justify the subordinate's position, given the hospital's well-publicized financial problems and the hundreds of millions it receives in federal money? If the inappropriate relationship between Lewis and the employee were the open secret some people describe it as , how many of Lewis's colleagues knew about it and why did they ignore it?"

Channel 5's Team 5 Investigates learned that many Board members were unhappy that Dan was still CEO. Said one source, "There are members of the Board of Directors and the Board of Trustees who, having had a day to digest the story, feel the right thing for Dan to do, in the best interest of the hospital community, would be for him to resign."

Furthermore, the source said that "many senior managers are 'very disappointed with him'". Soon, one of the members of the Board of Directors quit and a few days later, a member of the Board of Trustees resigned his post, saying, "With all the controversy, I felt it was an appropriate time to step aside."

Then, on Saturday, May 1, 2010, the Boston Herald thrust the story explosively onto its cover, with a full-page picture of Dan and his zippered lip. The headline read NO MORE MR. TRANSPARENCY. Apparently, the newspaper's top health reporter had followed Dan to Ohio, where he was speaking at a conference. Angered by her presence, Dan tried to keep her outside and urged his audience not to speak to her.

As she stated, he "even snapped a photograph" of her with his cell phone..."so he could make sure conference organizers knew whom to bar from the event." Fortunately, she was able to procure an audiotape of the event. Ironically, one of Dan's comments during this speech was , "If you make a mistake, instead of pointing fingers, take responsibility." Said one attendee, "He talked a lot about accountability."

On Monday, May 4, 2010, board chairman Sandy King announced after another fraught board meeting that the group had fined Dan $50,000 because his actions had "created an improper appearance and became a distraction within the hospital." However, as reported in the Herald, hospital employees, whose wages and benefits were cut, were demanding to know when the directors learned of Dan's workplace romance and if they knew that the woman had received severance pay when leaving the "cash-strapped" hospital.

On that same day, the Herald came out with another front page picture of Dan, with the headline WHITEWASH. In smaller type, it read, LEWIS'S TRANSPARENCY TAKES ANOTHER HIT AS HE BLAMES UNION FOR MEDIA SCRUTINY. So much for taking responsibility for your own actions. Moreover, the Massachusetts director for the National Organization for Women called the $50,000 fine "a slap on the wrist." She continued, "We are a little concerned that there are not more serious ramifications."

Everyone was now talking about Dan Lewis and his escapade and even more columnists started to come out of the woodwork. In the Boston Globe, one called for a fuller accounting of Dan's actions. He wrote:

"A few fragments of information have emerged. It's clear that Lewis engaged in a relationship with a subordinate, which is not in violation of hospital rules. It's clear that the subordinate at one point worked directly for Lewis and was then transferred to a management position. It's clear that the subordinate left the hospital with a severance package."

However, the columnist asked, "How sizable was the severance package? Why did she leave the hospital? Why was she hired? Was she qualified for the new management position? What role did Lewis play?"

On May 14, 2010, both the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe announced that the Attorney General of Massachusetts would investigate Dan Lewis. Sandy King had asked her because the "Board believes that it would be prudent to seek an independent review of its actions." Thus, the taxpayers of Massachusetts were now burdened with paying for Lewis's arrogant and narcissistic behavior. Didn't the board have any sense of responsibility? Weren't they capable of doing the proper thing by firing Dan, without cost to the state?

To try to win over the media, Dan called in a few reporters and even made a television appearance. During these interviews, he revealed that his senior staff and hospital board members "warned him for years about the pitfalls of his longtime close relationship with a female employee, but, for reasons he does not fully understand, he ignored their advice."

As reported, "he declined to detail the exact nature of the relationship with the woman, which began before Lewis hired her in 2002, but said he was very sorry for his poor judgment and hoped to win back the trust of employees and patients." Apparently, Dan believes that he can continue to maintain his posture of innocence and that his charm will get him successfully through this mess.

Even with all eyes glued to his every move, Dan plans to remain CEO. "I really love the place," he told a reporter, "and am very attached to the people here and hope that I can continue to do work here." And, of course, the money is not bad either.

In any event, on September 2, 2010, right before Labor Day, the Boston Globe came out with the front page story that the Attorney General had reached a decision. In her view, the article stated, the Board of the hospital should "do some soul searching" about Lewis's "ability to continue leading the hospital" because she believed that his personal relationship with his subordinate "clearly endangered the reputation of the institution and its management." However, Sandy King, the Board Chairman, "rejected any suggestion that Lewis's actions may make him unfit for the job". Rather, he stated, "the best thing for the hospital is to have Lewis lead the institution."

Immediately the National Organization for Women and SEIU 1199 came out against the hospital Board's stance. Said NOW in a joint statement with SEIU, "Lewis's behavior is unacceptable, inexcusable and endangered the hospital's mission and reputation." Moreover, a week later NOW demanded that the Board fire Lewis because of his "controversial relationship with a former female subordinate." Said Christina Knowles, Massachusetts Director of NOW, "A slap on the wrist is highly inadequate and being terminated is the most appropriate action. Anything less is unacceptable."

Showing that they were serious about their demands, NOW and SEIU 1199 protested outside the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston where Lewis and the hospital Board were holding a meeting. They picketed there for hours, demanding the termination of Lewis.

However, Dan is still in place as CEO and he continues to receive a huge paycheck. As a Boston Globe columnist wrote in late September, "The 'Mad Men' way of treating women is alive and well in Boston" and there is no accountability for CEO's who are part of the old boy network.

If by some chance Dan is let go - and at this point, it seems very unlikely - he will be able to retire handsomely to some plush watering hole. Of course, even though he still remains CEO, he will never again be Boston's fair-haired boy, a reputation that he has enjoyed for years. And maybe, just maybe, that is punishment enough. In any event, the saga of Dan Lewis and this Harvard-teaching hospital is to be continued.

JANUARY 7, 2011

BIG NEWS and totally unexpected: Dan resigned!! It is not known where he will go or what he will do, but Dan is gone from this Harvard-teaching hospital. Now it is possible, if the powers that be choose a person with honesty, integrity, competency, and a big heart, that this once-great institution will become the place that was respected around the world.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ellen,

    Wow, what an ordeal you've been through. I've often thought about the best way to break bad news to patients is (i.e. phone vs. in office) but I've never dreamed of painting a dismal picture before confirmation that the picture is indeed dismal.

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I look forward to future posts on yours.

    Judy Paley