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Hospital chief to seek administrator

Published Oct. 18, 2005

If a new $125,000-a-year administrator is to be employed to help run the day-to-day affairs of Tampa General Hospital, the executive ought to be hired by hospital President Newell France, not the appointed members of the Hillsborough County Hospital Authority. That determination is the outcome of a vote Tuesday that divided authority members over their role and the role of France, the hospital's chief executive officer since 1983.

In a 4-3 vote, the authority decided against soliciting the services of companies in Tampa and Chicago to conduct a national search for a chief operations officer (COO), a top lieutenant who some authority members say is necessary to boost morale of the hospital's 3,400 employees and allow France more time to concentrate on external affairs such as fund raising.

The hiring of a COO was the chief recommendation contained in a $204,780 study by consultant Myles Lash earlier this year, but France said he saw other motivation in the move to hire a new second-in-command.

"I think the key issue is succession," he told reporters after the meeting Tuesday.

France, 63, is credited with bringing Tampa General back from the brink of bankruptcy after taking the helm of the public hospital when it was in a deficit position seven years ago. He was the executive director at a consortium of three Houston hospitals before coming to Tampa. Now paid $164,500, he says he gets plenty of attractive job queries _ most recently from San Francisco General and Denver General _ but intends to stay at Tampa General until he retires in six years.

"I get two phone calls a day from desperate public hospitals," France told the Times this week. "But I would think this would be my last job."

Although the authority voted unanimously this summer to heed the Lash report and find a COO, France opposed any immediate hire because of the delicate financial position of the 971-bed hospital. Profits fell from $6.9-million in 1988-89 to $1.2-million in 1989-1990 despite employee layoffs and an increase in room rates.

Last month, the authority voted to begin the search for the COO, but that decision was tainted when authority member Lois LaCivita Nixon was prevented from voting because she was told the chairwoman could vote only in the case of a tie. Tuesday, lawyer Ralph Dell corrected that misunderstanding, telling Nixon the chairwoman could vote on any motion.

Though most authority members appeared Tuesday to agree with the need for a COO to help keep up with Tampa General's growth, a majority thought the hiring was within France's purview.

"I believe we should deal with policy-making and the administration should do the day-to-day things," said authority member and County Commissioner Jan Platt. If a COO is to be hired, "Mr. France ought to do it."

Even some of those in favor of beginning an immediate search for a COO argued that the executive should complement France's administration, not undermine it.

"I'm concerned that the COO has to report to Mr. France and not to this board," said authority member Robert Williams. "Fragmented management, in my opinion, is stupid management. I don't want any end runs."

Voting to begin the search for the COO immediately were Williams, Frank Fleischer and Jay Wolfson. Opposed were Platt, Nixon, George Lackman Jr. and C. Blythe Andrews Jr.

France said he would begin the search himself and make the appointment of a COO after consulting with the authority. But he added, "It's possible I might not hire anyone. The search may not produce the right candidate right now."

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