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Curran strikes back at NuHealth trustees over appointment

Robert Detor, the new NuHealth chairman, with Nassau

Robert Detor, the new NuHealth chairman, with Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Thursday in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran struck back at trustees who oversee Nassau University Medical Center, calling their decision to install an interim chief executive and president without her authority neither "lawful or appropriate."

Curran said NuHealth chairman Robert Detor, who started Friday as head of the state board that runs NUMC, should also serve as the hospital's president and chief executive on an interim basis, as prescribed under hospital bylaws. 

A series of decisions, enacted Thursday on the eve of Detor's start, sent the embattled health system into political chaos and confusion. On Thursday, Curran said Detor would start the next day as her pick to replace NuHealth chairman George Tsunis. 

Hours later, NuHealth board members approved significant resolutions that appeared to tie Detor's hands as he readied to lead NUMC and meet with senior staff. The board appointed Dr. Anthony Boutin to an 18-month tenure as interim chief executive and president. It also suspended agreements with Manhasset-based Northwell Health, which was developing a strategic plan to turn NUMC around. 

The Curran administration said the moves were disrespectful to Detor, a longtime health care executive who was hours away from starting his new role.

On Friday, Curran wrote a letter to NuHealth general counsel Megan Ryan, copying board members, to reject their resolutions: “I do not believe that the Board’s appointment of an interim chief executive officer is lawful or appropriate.”

Also Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appointed three new board members to the NuHealth board, all of whom were recommended by Democrats. The new members would increase the number of Curran- or Democratic-appointed supporters to NuHealth’s board. The vote to install Boutin passed by a vote of 6-2. The board can have up to 15 voting members, and there are now 13 voting members on the board.

Curran wrote in her letter that the appointment of a chief executive officer is “subject to the approval of the County Executive of Nassau County. Please be advised that I hereby object to and reject the appointment of Dr. Boutin as interim chief executive officer.”

She said the board should finish a monthslong search, already underway, for a permanent hospital leader. “In the interim, it is my understanding that the bylaws of the Corporation require that the duties and responsibilities of chief executive officer be exercised by Chairman Detor.”

According to state law, the NuHealth board "shall select the chief executive officer subject to the approval of the county executive … the chief executive officer shall serve at the pleasure of the board of directors …"

Warren Zysman, a board member who sponsored the interim CEO resolution and had been criticized by Tsunis and others for frequent absences at meetings, said Monday: "I think it's strange that no other county executive has ever gotten this involved in this kind of a process before. I would like to know what the objections are to Dr. Boutin, and I'd like to know why they're not supportive of him."

A resolution needed to be passed before Detor's start, he said. “We've been waiting two years," Zysman said. "I don't understand why we wouldn't put forward stability — why the patients and the employees should have to wait."

Zysman said of Detor and county officials, "however, we do want to work together collaboratively with them, if they're not satisfied with the selection of the board."

Bobby Kalotee, another trustee who supported the resolution, said, "There should be no gap in the corporation's top leadership." He said he was pleased that the board "performed their fiduciary responsibility for the best interests of the patient care, and employees."

In an interview Monday, Detor said he was assuming the role of interim chief executive and president himself before appointing one on an interim or permanent basis.

As for Boutin's nomination, Detor said: "The process, is I am [the acting CEO and president]. Period. That’s it." Detor said Boutin "assured me that he’s a team player."

"We just have to follow what the procedure is. The procedure is in the bylaws, that the chairman, when the position is vacant, becomes the acting CEO," he said.

On Friday, Cuomo appointed three new trustees to NuHealth's board: Waylyn Hobbs Jr., of Hempstead, a Curran recommendation; Martin Glennon of Sea Cliff, who had the backing of Nassau Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), and Jan Figueira, a recommendation of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx). 

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