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

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Fear at OSF

OSF’s mission statement regarding the importance of open and honest communication did not seem to be followed during the months and weeks before I was fired in December, ‘01.

The Emergency Department at OSF has 24 resident physicians who do three-year residencies in Peoria to learn the speciality of emergency medicine. They are evaluated on a monthly basis for 36 months regarding their performance. I really enjoyed working with the resident physicians for the 12 years I was employed in the ER at OSF, teaching in the department and giving conferences covering a variety of emergency medicine topics. The residents are young, aggressive, and want to learn.

A resident physician told me in detail about a meeting of all ED resident physicians during the time I was suspended from working the main emergency room. I missed being in the ED and working with the young physicians. The resident physicians were told by a senior member of the ER staff that if any of them “spoke negatively” regarding the fact that I had been banned from the emergency room, they would “suffer harsh consequences”. I asked if Hevesy had made this announcement. The answer was no but that Hevesy stood next to the speaker nodding his head and affirming the threats. (OSF functions this way to protect certain individuals. Subordinates are picked out to give bad news.) The residents wanted good evaluations during their 3 years in Peoria so they could get good jobs when they finished their residencies. They knew they shouldn’t say anything.

Another resident told me that when he went in to talk to the Program Director in the ER for his evaluation after I was fired, he was asked questions about his friendship with me and what he thought about my departure. The resident did not know what to say because of the obvious implications regarding why he was asked these questions.

Interestingly, an attending physician was having an affair with one of the residents he was evaluating on a monthly basis during the time I was being fired for writing my “bed capacity” letter. This attending physician kept his job at OSF as I was terminated.

All of the nurses in the ED were talked to in 3 separate meetings by Hevesy and the director of the ER nurses. My termination was discussed. I can’t recall exactly what was said; I can’t locate my notes at present, but I do not think the nurses walked away thinking they were free to discuss the issue. The OSF nurses have no union, so they could be fair game. A nurse who started a petition supporting me told me how Rick Miller would pick up her charts out of the patient box and scan them. In her opinion, he was looking for any mistakes or oversights she have made with her documentation to use against her. (She no longer works in the ER at OSF. She left voluntarily.)

During the fall of ‘01, an attending physician in the ER was vocal in his support for me in the ER. One day while in the bathroom, he was followed in by another assistant director of the OSF-ED and told to hold down his comments in support of me. The attending physicians were told not to discuss my firing with the media. As documented in another post, Conversations with Chris, a fax went out to various places at OSF-SFMC telling all OSF employees not to talk about my firing to “protect me”. They of course were trying to protect OSF and themselves for their indiscretions.

Several days after I was fired, an ER staff meeting occurred and Keith Steffen and OSF attorney Doug Marshall showed up. Someone attending the meeting filled me in on the details. Keith wore glasses and stared at the floor a lot and appeared quite sad. He said to the doctors that “he had not been sleeping well” (concerning my firing) even though he had smiled and told me during those months in his office how at peace he was and how well he was sleeping. ( I know this seems unbelieveable and I would have a hard time if I were you reading this blog. Doug Marshall spoke a lot because Keith was so “sad”. Most of the physicians had never even seen Marshall before and wouldn’t have known who he was.

I asked the person present at the meeting if anyone believed what Keith was telling them and the answer was “no”. It was stated that my firing was the toughest they encountered at OSF citing an example of a janitor who jumped up in Keith’s office at his termination and was extremely angry. This left the impression with my colleagues that the same may have occurred with me. It did not, of course, but that was the impression created. What Steffen and Marshall left out were the seeds of doubt that Steffen was creating all over the community about me. This wasn’t mentioned to my colleagues.

After I was fired from OSF, a Haitian Hearts supporter, an OSF employee, and a good friend of mine had a meeting with OSF’s chaplain, Fr. Mike Bliss. We pleaded with him to talk with Keith Steffen about the plight of the Haitian children who needed surgery. Father stated that he would talk with “Sister” but he would not talk with Steffen about this. He was very definite about not approaching Steffen even though the Haitian kids were screaming for the Sister’s mission to be followed. He stated this would be “waving red flags as to whose side he was on”. (I assumed he was on the Haitian kids side. He had travelled to Haiti with us in the past and saw the inhuman conditions on the island where these kids lived.)

I said to Father that “you won’t be fired if you speak with Keith”. He just laughed and raised his eyebrows. I interpreted his facial expression to mean that his getting fired was a distinct possibility if he fought this too much. I couldn’t believe that the Catholic chaplain who said Mass everyday in the chapel at OSF, visited the sick every day and night, and came to the ER for pastoral care issues every time I called him, would be so intimidated by Steffen. He knew the consequences that could follow and that the Sisters probably would do nothing to stop Father’s departure from OSF. The bottom line was that Father Bliss knew who really controlled OSF. And they didn’t wear habits.

As the months went by, and I began to understand more of how things worked in Peoria, I wondered what the repercussions from the Catholic Diocese of Peoria would be against Father Bliss if he took a pro active stance in support of the Haitian Hearts children.

August 19, 2006

OSF and Unionizing

Tom Schindler wrote an article in the National Catholic Reporter, August 11, 2006, regarding Catholic hospitals and unions. Much of what I will write in this post comes directly from Mr. Schindler’s article.

A couple of years ago at OSF-SFMC in Peoria there was some talk of the nurses forming a union. Keith Steffen, CEO at OSF, wrote a letter and discouraged the formation of a union. A friend’s spouse, who was a nurse at OSF, was asked by an upper level nurse if she was going to sign a paper in favor of a union. She viewed this as harassment. Needless to say, she didn't sign.

Mr. Schindler made the following points:

1. Catholic tradition believes people have the right to organize and bargain collectively. This is a social right.

2. In 1891, Catholic social teaching explicitly recognized unions in the Church’s first social encyclical—Rerum Novarum. In their 1986 pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All”, the U.S. Catholic Bishops reaffirmed the right of workers to organize unions and opposed efforts to block or weaken organizing drives. Why would Keith Steffen in Peoria ignore the pastoral care statement and have a hostile response? I believe the OSF Sisters are looking the other way. The Sisters could look at a nursing union at OSF as a vehicle to advance the Mission of OSF from patient care to worker justice.

3. Bishops in the United States are turning a “blind eye and deaf ear”. The late
Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, called the “patron saint of health care
workers”, ordered four Catholic hospitals to hire back strikers they had fired during one strike and forced another Catholic hospital to stop hiring permanent
replacement workers during another strike. Where was Bishop Jenky in the Catholic Diocese of Peoria? Can you imagine him doing what Cardinal O'Connor did in New York? Did he support the few nurses at OSF who were speaking out for a union? Bishop Jenky simply did not want to offend "management" in Peoria.

4. Mr. Schindler states that in the end, support for unions is a matter of human dignity. (Nurses are not “widgets” as Mr. Steffen has referred to them.) Employees in hospitals, as well as Catholic schools, have a political and social right to a voice. And given the asymmetry of power between employees and management, that right needs the protection of organization. In the case of hospitals like OSF the dignity of those who come there for treatment is also at stake.

1 comment:

Ginger DoJoo said...

very informative blog "interesting" {list} keep it coming!

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