An account of how a large Catholic medical center has lost its way. Go to to see recent updates.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Conversations with George

Conversations With George

Dr.George Hevesy became Director of the OSF-ED on August 1, 2001. He replaced Dr. Rick Miller. Two other attending physicians "ran" against George as ED physicians voted over the phone. Sue Wozniak was given the phone vote and George was made Director of the Emergency Department at OSF. Business would continue as usual.

I wrote my letter to Keith Steffen, Administrator of OSF-SFMC, on September 27, 2001 detailing my concerns regarding bed capacity at OSF and long waiting times for patients in the ER. George put me on probabation the next day and said I would no longer see patients in the main ER starting November 1.

On October 5 and November 9 I met with George in his office. The following notes are from both meetings:

George stated that he agreed with the content of my letter. He did not agree that I had gone outside of communication channels. He also that the emergency department lacked a leader for the last one and one-half years (Rick Miller). He said he would be frustrated also. I wrote directly to the head of the hospital because I did not think George would really do much with my complaints and “bed capapcity” at OSF was an issue for administration.

George told me that all I needed to do to get back into the main emergency room was to see Dr. Richard Lee who was in charge of the Wellness Committee at OSF because I was “burned out”. His original letter, of course, had not mentioned this. My whole future flashed in front of my eyes when George said this. I could see what was going to happen. An attending physician in the ER had questioned George and Rick Miller that if they thought I was really burned out, why were they letting me continue to work in the main ER until November 1. George came to his senses and realized he should be consistent and moved me to Prompt Care shifts after my colleague made that observation. (The real issue was that George did not want to have to change the work schedule because the other attendings would be quite upset with him.) So I started 10 hour Prompt Care shifts in October and worked more hours than any other attending physician in the department until I was fired in December.

Interestingly, at a prior Emergency Department staff meeting directed by George in August, he told the entire room of physicians that “we are all crispy critters”. This meant that we were all burned out with the dysfunctional emergency room that was overcrowded, noisy, with lengthy patient waiting times and very sick patients. He scolded four physicans for their treatment of nurses and the language that was used against one nurse by a physician. When I asked George if all the physicians in the department were going to have to see Dr. Lee, he replied, “of course not”. I told George that his measures against me were very punitive in nature and were slapping the messenger because of the message. On November 11, when I asked George twice to give me examples that showed I was burned out, he shook his head and gave no examples whatsoever.

What most people did not know, were the conversations that I and others were having with Keith Steffen upstairs. Steffen was saying to me “when this comes out about you, this won’t be good.” He was telling others the same and that “John Carroll has done bad things” and that “John Carroll is a bad person”. He told my brother ‘there is a side of John that you don’t know”. Steffen would not tell me what he was talking about. He was talking to people in his church and to various community leaders about me. Steffen even told me that if I saw Dr. Lee, there would still be “some baggage”. A number of my physician partners told me they would see Dr. Lee also, if I would, so I could retain my job. My partners did not want to see me fired. They were not aware of the seeds of doubt that Steffen was creating in the community at OSF and outside the medical center. I was trapped and the witch hunt was going full force.

(Interestingly, I talked to Dr. Lee on the phone. I have known him for greater than 20 years. He told he that Rick Miller had talked to him about me in the summer and Dr. Lee told Miller to “handle it in the department”. He could see no good reason for the referral.)

I continued to work my shifts and take care of Haitian Hearts patients in the hospital. Steffen told me he would fire me if I had not seen Dr. Lee by December 11, 2001. I travelled to New Orleans that day with Paul Kramer. As the plane took off from the Peoria airport, I looked at my watch and it was 11:10 AM. I told Paul, “I just got fired…” Paul didn’t say much. I gave a speech to the National Business Aviation Association for OSF Childrens Hospital and Haitian Hearts the next day to 1,000 private jet owners regarding the good work being done in Peoria. August Busch III was the keynote speaker.

When I got back in Peoria, Keith sent for me. I went in to his office and asked him if he fired me while I was in New Orleans. He said he had not because “I was trying to raise money for Childrens Hospital with my speech in New Orleans regarding Haitian Hearts and Children's Hospital of Illinois”.

While I was seeing patients in Prompt Care at OSF in the morning on December 18, Hevesy came to the area and said that Steffen wanted to see us. I passed a colleague of mine walking down the hall who had been called in to work for me. He nodded. I knew what was going to happen. As we walked down the main hall near administration, Sister Canisia was putting up Christmas decorations. Hevesy said, “Good morning, Sister.” She didn’t even look up at him.

In the administrative office was OSF’s attorney Doug Marshall, Dr. Tim Miller, George, and of course Keith. They all looked so serious and solemn as they sat on Keith’s couch like good little soldiers. Keith’s bible was in its usual prominent location. Interestingly, Keith was not shuffling his feet nervously, smiling at the floor and saying “another side of me is going to come out.” Keith handed me a two page letter firing me from the medical center that I loved so much. I was fired because I did not see Dr. Lee as George had demanded. Not doing what Hevesy and Steffen demanded was the best move I ever made. It took a total of about 3 minutes to let me go after 21 great years at the hospital I loved.

Keith asked me if I had any questions. I had many, but it was too late. Steffen told me that I needed to leave the hosptial then. I picked up my stethescope and brief case from Prompt Care, a nurse hugged me, and I was gone.


Letters from Dr. Gene Couri and Dr. Sonja Simenauer:

October 3,2001
George Hevesy M.D. OSF/SFMC
Dear George,

After reading John's letter, and finding out your response I felt it imperative to write you as your friend and your employee as to how this will affect our group and most of all our patients. I have known John for 17 years, share few common bonds with him outside of work, and have an incredible admiration and respect for him as a fellow physician and human. In these times of frustration, and chaos it is easy to see those particular points about someone that are irritating to us. John like all of us does not break this rule, but those things that are sometimes irritating are also his greatest assets.

A dedication to his patients needs that exceeds the distractions about him. When I work with John I have learned the importance of attention to the individual patient. Patient's medical needs are addressed with a focused comprehensive history, physical, and appropriate lab evaluation. No matter how busy, how chaotic, John will not saaifice this standard to the distractions of the ED.

A dedication to the art, and science of medicine. I have always admired John's discipline for furthering his knowledge base and frequently in adult and pediatric patients I tap this knowledge base on line. It had been frustrating and intimidating to work with someone like this as the residents staffed with him, and gave him the teaching awards. This had challenged me to work harder, read more, and hopefully teach in a better fashion.

A dedication to the mission of OSF. What can be said about a man who forsakes having children, and dedicates the vast majority of his time and money to saving the lives of someone else's impoverished children? These actions certainly remind us of what we should be doing, or at least helping with, and yet we are not pushed by John only self reminded of our shortcomings.

A dedication to the search and revelatim of the truth. This by far is John's greatest asset that defines who he is, and at the same time his greatest liability. My interactions with John have not always been pleasant, but have always been truthful and from his heart. John could certainly be more tactful or politically correct but truth to him is either black or white, and unfortunately he has not learned shades of gray.

George it certainly has appeared that in the past few years we have been pushing John out the door. His academic hours have vanished, his colleagues are afraid to agree or associate with him as he has not been politically correct, and the new nursing statff has brought preconceived prejudices to the ED. I was certainly hoping that your handling of our most valuable asset to the group would be done with patience and wisdom realizing what John brings to our ED. I understand there needs to be order in our group, and hope that this problem can be resolved as rapidly as possible to bring John back to our ED. I know it was not your intention, but by letting our most outspoken member go you send an all too familiar message to us all. Our worth should not be determined by our ability to "get along", but to serve our patients and the mission of Saint Francis. The integrity of our work should be determined by how much we are willing to personally sacrifice for our worth in our job.

John has put his job on the line for what he believes is the best interest of our patients. Life in our group would be easier without John, just as our life would be easier without a conscious. John represents the "Gold Standard" of an OSF employee, and I truly believe you have the ability to use this for our groups' benefit.

George our group needs to make a radical change, no more of the old smoke and mirrors, but a clear . delineation of what we need to do for our patients, you/our administration, and our hospital. We as your employees need to be rewarded for making the difficult choices and self-sacrifice, and politics as we once knew it needs to go away.

Thanks George,

Gene Couri

Sonya D. Simenauerer,D.D.S., M.D.
PROCTOR PROFESSIONAL BUILDING 5401 N. Knoxville Avenue Peoria, Illinois 61614 Telephone: (309) 692-1496

November 2, 2001
Dear Mr. Steffen:

I was shocked to learn of the loss of Dr. John Carroll in the emergency room. He is a wonderful addition to St. Francis Hospital and one of the best pediatric ER doctors. He has displayed great dedication to the needy children of Haiti and brought credit to your hospital.

Above all when my father was in a coma at St. Francis ICU, he stopped by everyday to comfort me even though he was not involved in my father's care.

I have directed all of my patients to go to St. Francis ER because of the good care that your doctors, like Dr. Carroll, give to my patients. His reputation, commitment, and dedication to others is an asset to your hospital.

Thanks for your time,

Sonya D. Simenauer, D.D.S., M.D.

(After Dr. Simenauer wrote this letter to Mr. Steffen, Dr. Hevesy called her and was very upset with her for writing this letter of support for me.)


Anonymous said...

Keith can build a new hospital out of gold, it will not matter. He will not pay nurses/ so the short staffing will alway's be there. When the building is done, call for a nurse, and see if there are any. They are saleing relastate,working any where other than a hospital. It is very sad they are almost all women, it is with out a doubt a gender discrimination. I can imagine what Keith thinks of women.

Blue-Caller said...

any hospital that keeps itself "short-staffed" on a regular basis with nurses diverting patients to other hospitals because they are at "capacity" has absolutely no business trying to monopolize area insurance contracts such as Caterpiller and others. Steffen's comments on "burying" the peoria day surgery center is even more absurd many people at cat feel they are being held "hostage" by having to go to Osf medical already. when the vote comes up the next time Osf med center maybe the one kicked to the curb.

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