Tampa General Hospital's chief financial officer quit suddenly Thursday, while Fred Karl announced that he could start as soon as Nov. 7 as the floundering hospital's chief executive.
"There's a real need for settling things down over there," said Karl, who is retiring as Hillsborough County's administrator. His start date at Tampa General is pending approval of the Hillsborough County Hospital Authority.
Financial officer Claudia Griffiths, 43, voluntarily resigned after only one meeting earlier this week with Karl, who replaces former hospital president David Bussone. Bussone, who was sharply criticized for failing to respect Florida's Sunshine Laws and for dividing the hospital board and medical community, resigned Monday at the request of hospital board President Frank Fleischer.
Griffiths and Bussone worked together closely, and some board members suggested both were actively setting up the public hospital for sale to a private company. Bussone hired Griffiths in February 1993. She earned $143,000 a year.
In her resignation letter, Griffiths questioned the direction the hospital will take under Karl. The budget situation "will require decisive management actions with strong board support. With recent developments, I have concerns that appropriate and necessary actions can occur," she wrote.
Griffiths, whose resignation takes effect Nov. 1, declined to comment. She will not receive any severance pay, Fleischer said.
"It's too bad Claudia's leaving. She could have learned a great deal from Fred Karl," said board member Lois Nixon.
Board member Jay Wolfson, who respected Griffiths' grasp of financial issues, called her a "bright lady. One of the issues we've faced over the past few weeks is if being bright is good enough. It might not be when you have to deal with board members and as a public organization."
Karl had agreed in initial contract talks that he would work with the remaining management team. He met Tuesday with Griffiths and two other vice presidents.
"I indicated my willingness to work with them," he said. But Griffiths refused to discuss marketing strategies or methods for increasing revenue, focusing instead on layoffs, he said. The hospital board in September approved a $307-million budget that eliminates 326 jobs over the next 11 months.
"Isn't there another side to this equation?" Karl recalled asking her. "Clearly, I had the signal that she had strong ideas about where she wanted to go."
Karl said he will look first within the hospital's finance staff for a successor, but said there is no shortage of competent outside people who could take the job, even temporarily. Hospital comptroller Kathy Gillette will handle the interim responsibilities, Fleischer said.
Karl, who tentatively agreed to begin his new job Nov. 18, when his county position ended, asked Thursday to begin Nov. 7. The board is scheduled to meet that morning to vote on his contract. He is expected to ask for $210,000, the same amount Bussone was paid, Fleischer said.