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Search committee for new head of health system holds forum

By Amabel Karoub, Daily Staff Reporter
Published July 10, 2014

University of Michigan Health System faculty members and administrators are searching the country for the hospital’s next leader — and they want suggestions.

Ora Pescovitz, former Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs at UMHS, announced in March that she would step down at the end of her initial five year appointment in June. The University appointed a 13-person Advisory Committee in May to find her replacement, which includes six professors, several hospital administrators, Martin Philbert, dean of the School of Public Health, and Cynthia Wilbanks, the University’s vice president for government relations.

On Thursday, committee members held an open forum for UMHS faculty and staff to hear their colleagues’ opinions on what qualities should be sought in the next EVPMA.

The EVPMA occupies the highest position at UMHS and is responsible for leading and managing the entire health system. The chosen individual will be in charge of the Medical School, the Hospitals and Health Centers, the School of Nursing and the Michigan Health Corporation. The EVPMA is one of 13 senior officers of the University, and he or she reports to the University president.

Dr. Paul Lee, director of the Kellogg Eye Center and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science and head of the Search Advisory Committee, led the forum. He began by opening the room to questions and concerns relating to the search process.

Human Genetics Prof. Miriam Meisler said she thought the basic sciences have been neglected in the University Medical School over the past few years. To remedy this problem, she said she hoped for an executive with research experience.

“I think it would be very much an asset if you could find somebody who has actually functioned as a (National Institutes of Health) sponsored principle investigator, who knows research from the inside and who understands the challenges of the system,” Meisler said. “I think it’s very difficult to appreciate unless you’ve been there.”

A commitment to research is one of several qualifications that the committee has laid out for applicants. They also include leadership experience, understanding of current health policy, knowledge of management techniques and experience with philanthropy.

As well, in what may be the most restricting criteria for the position, the committee has required that applicants hold either an M.D. or equivalent degree.

Lee said this requirement was not automatic, and the search committee discussed the topic extensively before deciding that the academic qualification was necessary.

The extensive list of standards mostly comes from the large scale, prestigious nature the position. UMHS has an annual operating budget of $3.4 billion, and in 2013 U.S. News and World Report ranked UMHS as the number one hospital in Michigan. Many specialties were also ranked high nationally.

However, despite the hospital’s achievements in past years, Internal Medicine Prof. James Shayman told the committee he feels that the health system has lost substantial ground in recent years, and he wants an executive who will look to increase rather than maintain the benchmarks of the system already in place.

“Ultimately we’re here to be leaders and set the standard in discovery, patient care and education,” Shayman said. “We’re starting with the presumption that we’ve reached that point, and whoever we find to fill the role is going to maintain the status quo. Personally, I would find that search to be a failure.”

The process the University is utilizing to find the new EVPMA is the same that was used to find new University president Mark Schlissel. Both nominations and applications will be accepted for the position, and from the original applicant pool the committee will then narrow it down to a smaller group of contenders and eventually choose a final candidate. The list of candidates will not be released to the public.

The committee plans to search throughout the fall, with the goal of having the new EVPMA begin work January 1, 2015. Until the position is filled, Michael Johns, professor of otolaryngology and health policy at Emory University, will continue to act as interim EVPMA.