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Fred Karl's new challenge

The governing board that oversees Tampa General Hospital has been so divided over the leadership of President David Bussone that it seemed it would never agree on anything again until he stepped aside.

Bussone deserves credit for doing just that. It couldn't have been easy, but Bussone finally understood he had become an impediment to progress. His successor must now help the board find common ground.

Fred Karl is singularly suited for the job. Although he has no background in health care management, his three years of steady leadership as Hillsborough County administrator demonstrate his skills as a government healer. Karl helped restore the public's confidence in county government and can do the same for Hillsborough's only public hospital. He understands the special dynamics of running a public institution. Bussone seemed to have lost sight of that and was acting as if he were running a private company.

Karl says he is committed to fulfilling the commitment the Hillsborough Hospital Authority made four years ago to keep the hospital in public hands. He has staked that goal in the shifting sands of an uncertain health care industry, and it may be impossible to achieve. But the board that oversees the hospital and the public that owns it can now be assured that the man running its day-to-day affairs is truly committed.

Hospital Authority Chairman Frank Fleischer played a crucial role in this important change by confronting Bussone and recruiting Karl. Instead of criticism, Fleischer deserves praise for exerting strong leadership at a time of crisis.

Of course, replacing Bussone does not solve the complex problems facing Tampa General. But it does give the board the opportunity now to shift its focus away from a single individual and toward the challenges ahead.

Bussone has shown that saving the institution is more important than saving one person's job. Now it is up to the board to fulfill its mission of setting the policies that will assure the hospital's future.