THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Brian McGrory

Clarity due from hospital

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / May 7, 2010

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Nobody besides his family should care about the details of Paul Levy’s relationship with a female subordinate at the hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he is the high-profile chief executive. The details aren’t the point.

The point is whether Levy spent hospital dollars, which are nonprofit dollars, many of which are federal and state dollars, giving her raises, a severance package, and whatever other perks accompanied a relationship with the CEO.

The public doesn’t know whether Levy misspent hospital money or not. The chairman of the hospital’s board of directors, Stephen Kay, issued a statement this week saying the board was fining Levy $50,000 for having a “personal relationship’’ that “created an improper appearance, but “did not violate hospital policy.’’ He’s taken no questions. He concluded his statement by saying that he now “considers this matter closed.’’

It’s pretty to think so, Mr. Kay, but the matter is anything but closed. Because absent in his statement, absent in anything that’s come out of the hospital in the week since the murky details of the story first broke, is any proof, even hint, that hospital overseers have done anything other than furiously attempt to chaperone this sordid incident into the realm of past tense.

A few fragments of information have emerged. It’s clear that Levy engaged in a relationship with a subordinate, which is not in violation of hospital rules. It’s clear, from the reporting of the Globe’s Liz Kowalczyk, that the subordinate at one point worked directly for Levy, and was then transferred to a management position. It’s clear, again from Kowalczyk’s reporting, that the subordinate left the hospital with a severance package.

These fragments beg for questions to be answered. 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 Levy play?

To be very clear, no evidence has surfaced that Levy, financially speaking, did anything untoward. These are questions, not accusations. But when the CEO of a major Boston hospital has a relationship with a direct subordinate, who is transferred to a job with a better title before she departs with a severance package, it raises not just logical, but critical, questions. Left unanswered in a public setting, they are a cancer on the hospital’s leadership — and its reputation.

The members of the Beth Israel board have done nothing to publicly address them. The chairman, Kay, a retired Goldman Sachs executive, has released a pair of inadequate statements. He has made himself unavailable to reporters and the hospital community. Levy has spoken only through a statement.

The state attorney general, who oversees nonprofits, has been briefed by the hospital, but has taken no action.

When I called hospital spokeswoman Judy Glasser, she said, “I understand your questions, but what the board has said publicly is that they had outside counsel look at everything and report it to the board, and the board has acted on that. They believe that it’s done.’’ She also told me that neither Kay nor Levy would be available to answer questions.

A word about Levy: talented. He has successfully managed large and complex organizations at difficult times. He suffers no lack of influential friends. And he has championed the exact kind of transparency that he is most definitely not practicing now, but who can blame him.

Blame the board, which is doing Levy no favors. If he did nothing wrong with hospital money, much of which is public money, then release the salary history of the subordinate, her qualifications, her severance, and Levy’s role — while shading her identity. If he acted improperly, that’s a different conversation.

Beth Israel is one of the city’s great institutions and Levy one of Boston’s most effective leaders. Neither will continue that way until the board makes a fuller public accounting of abuses that did and didn’t occur.

McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

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