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George Tsunis to resign as NuHealth chief

George Tsunis, chairman of the NuHealth board, pictured

George Tsunis, chairman of the NuHealth board, pictured at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow. Credit: Danielle Silverman

George Tsunis, a hotelier and political fundraiser tapped last year to turn around the struggling Nassau University Medical Center, said Monday he would resign next month as chairman of the public benefit corporation that runs the hospital.

Tsunis' departure comes as NuHealth, which treats many low-income and uninsured patients as Nassau County's only public hospital, has struggled with persistent budget deficits and endured leadership turnover.

Last month, the Tsunis-led board approved a union contract for more than 3,000 employees, and the Nassau Interim Finance Authority said it was mulling the possibility of taking over NuHealth's finances.

Tsunis' last day will be Jan. 17.

“I’m a big believer that every job has a beginning, a middle and an end, and I think I’ve come to the conclusion of my usefulness there,” said Tsunis, 51, of Matinecock.

Tsunis, who was appointed by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, called the NuHealth position “one of the great honors of my life." He said he thanked Curran over the weekend "for giving me an opportunity to serve the residents of Nassau County, and it gives the County Executive ample opportunity to find a replacement."

Immediately after his appointment in February 2018, Tsunis fired longtime employees and vendors he deemed to have had longtime ties to Republican and Democratic officials.

He also ended the practice of sending hospital employees to an insurance conference in the Caribbean on the taxpayer's dime, helped to shutter an employment agency within NUMC he dubbed a "patronage pit" and removed the operator of its coffee shop for nonpayment of bills.

The fate of one of his signature initiatives, bringing in a team of Northwell Health executives to help NUMC, remains uncertain after the hospital's former chief executive Winnie Mack left in October after six months on the job. Her appointment had been heralded as key to the hospital's turnaround.

“We cleaned out all the patronage of NUMC. NUMC is patronage-free arguably for the first time in its history," Tsunis said.

Tsunis said he had boosted diversity of senior staff at NUMC, which serves significant numbers of minority patients.

“Now, the senior administration at NUMC looks a lot like the patients in the emergency room,” Tsunis said.

He also said there were, "dozens of workplace violence complaints," when he took office, and "there are essentially none today."

In explaining his decision to resign, Tsunis said he has numerous professional commitments. He is chairman of the Battery Park City Authority and a member of a state commission overseeing the creation of a new Mother Cabrini statue. He also said he has numerous hotel and real estate projects.

Tsunis has been interim chief executive and president of NuHealth since mid-October, and also served in that role last winter.

In letters to employees and board members Monday, Tsunis said he was leaving with a "heavy heart." He said he has "been speaking over the last couple of months about a succession plan."

Jerry Laricchiuta, CSEA Nassau County Local 830 president, said of Tsunis' impending resignation: "I don't think it's a good thing. George was a doing a good job there.”

Of the approval of the union contract, which provides total raises of 8% over four years, Laricchiuta said, "That's one thing George finished. Thank God that he did, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done over there."

A senior hospital executive said a search committee to replace Mack at NUMC was down to two finalists: John Gupta, a longtime hospital executive, and Tom Stokes, a former deputy county executive under Democratic County Executive Tom Suozzi, who now represents the 3rd Congressional District.

Curran, a Democrat, said in an interview, “George has really come through for us. He inherited a monumental mess at the hospital and did a wonderful job cleaning it up. I am grateful for his two years of service and appreciate his partnership."

She said her administration was “embarking on a search for the new CEO. We’re talking to candidates.”

Nassau County Interim Finance Authority Chairman Adam Barsky said Tsunis, “has done a terrific job of turning around various aspects of the hospital in a very short period of time and has been actively putting together a long-term plan to help address the current problems to make the hospital viable in the future."

Barsky said officials must focus on "a long-term plan to rightsize the hospital for those things that they absolutely need to be doing, and divest of things that they don't necessarily need to be doing."

In 2013, Tsunis was nominated by President Barack Obama as U.S. Ambassador to Norway. He withdrew after his performance in his Senate confirmation hearing sparked criticism from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others.

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