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Tampa General's president survives vote for removal

Disgruntled workers gathered Monday to watch an unhappy board member's attempted ouster of David Bussone as Tampa General Hospital's president.

Despite Hillsborough County Commissioner Jan Platt's enumeration of Bussone's errors, hospital authority members rallied, sometimes with a mix of criticism, to his defense.

Platt's motion to remove Bussone was rejected, 9-2, by board members who acknowledged their leader has "warts" and has made mistakes, but deserves his $210,000 a year job.

"As they sometimes say with husbands, you don't know if the next one who comes along will be any better," said board member Trudy Barkin.

Board members later dropped a motion of support for Bussone, after several board members criticized it as redundant and an employee representative said it would upset workers.

Bussone's leadership of the 1,000 bed public hospital has come under increasing fire since the March 18 layoff of 213 employees. That move was followed days later with plans to cut night and overtime pay, a decision criticized as ill-timed. Morale plummeted. Employees complained repeatedly that Bussone and top executives lied and disrespected workers.

Last month, as tensions escalated, a group of 48 nurses announced plans to unionize the 1,100-employee nursing staff. Spokeswoman Carole Lawson said Monday that effort has expanded to include about 3,100 hospital employees. A petition drive soon could yield enough signatures to force a vote, she said.

Platt has hinted since April that new management was needed.

Her complaints crested earlier this month after Bussone avoided most of an employee meeting that was called to discuss concerns.

Platt's concerns include a drop to 439 filled beds, about 100 fewer than last year at the same time. She said Monday that Bussone fails to stand behind tough decisions and blames the media for problems while avoiding the real issues. Platt also blames him for rocking the delicate balance between private doctors and the University of South Florida, which she says has chased the private doctors away.

The hospital is at a "point of no return," Platt said.

Most board members were guarded in their response, mixing support for Bussone with admonishments.

"There should not be any more excuses for anything," said board member Madeleine Courtney, who asked for sensitivity.

Burt Lowe called Bussone a visionary and competent. Board Chairman C. Blythe Andrews Jr., who voted against hiring Bussone, said the hospital president has made a sincere effort to improve. Meanwhile, Joe Elena Weachter criticized employees for their attacks on management.

"I can't imagine at other institutions that employees could chastise their employer publicly and get away with it," Weachter said.

About 20 people, include union organizers and dismissed former employees, were forced to wait outside the crammed boardroom, where they were unable to listen to the proceedings. Board member Lois Nixon called on Bussone to find a larger space to accommodate the public.