William Kelley knows what it's like to be in the spotlight. He is credited with building the University of Pennsylvania Health System into one of the top academic medical research centers in the country. But amidst the Health System's recent financial troubles and his dismissal last month, Kelley has been transformed from a media darling into an object of intense scrutiny. The former chief executive officer of the Health System and dean of the School of Medicine -- who University President Judith Rodin fired three weeks ago -- has been depicted as a cunning leader who showed indifference and even outright hostility to many of his employees. Most recently, an article in this month's Philadelphia Magazine entitled "Sick Days" took the scrutiny a step further, portraying Kelley as emotionless and cold -- and blaming him for the Health System's fiscal crisis. The reporter, Lawrence Goodman, described Kelley as an arrogant leader who "drove out his enemies," and was "too hard-charging, too callous in his dealings with people." He wrote that Kelley led his institution with blinders, paying attention only to the bottom line and refusing to see any of the warning signs of financial disaster. But many who have worked for Kelley saw the article as inaccurate. Health System spokeswoman Lori Doyle defended her former boss of seven years. She said she felt the depiction was an unfair portrayal of Kelley, pointing out that the author quoted mostly former employees. Goodman, for instance, wrote about a former chairman of cardiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania who was abruptly told to resign for no apparent reason. The administrator who fired him later said the department needed change. Also mentioned was Bud Pittinger, a longtime friend of Kelley who served as HUP's executive director until 1995, when he was fired by the CEO and escorted out of the building by security guards. "They all left because they couldn't cut it," Doyle said. "So of course they're going to be disgruntled." I. William Ferniany, who was appointed interim chief operating officer of the Health System 10 days ago, explained that the type of leadership described in the piece was an exception for Kelley. "I've been here 7 1/2 years," Ferniany said yesterday. "And I've only heard of that happening once." Peter Quinn, chairman of the medical board at UPHS, described Kelley as a tough guy who demanded professionalism from those around him. He criticized the article for resorting to exaggeration to sell more papers. "I think that he wanted to make Bill a fiery persona because that would be more interesting," Quinn said. But Stephen Fried, the magazine's editor, is quick to defend Goodman's work. "All I can say is I haven't heard [any complaints] from Kelley," he said. Goodman's article also blamed the system's financial problems on Kelley's aggressive purchase of three hospitals over a three-year period in the mid-1990s and creation of a network of private clinical practices. "It is easy to look back and say Penn shouldn't have done a lot of things," said Martha Marsh, a former Penn Health System executive. "So second guessing things that were worthwhile at the time is not going to help." Quinn attributed the Health System's financial problems to two factors: managed care and the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which drastically cut federal reimbursements to hospitals. "Dr. Kelley was doing some incredible things at the wrong time in history," he noted. "His style to me wasn't an issue." Fried, though, stands by his reporter. He points out that Goodman spoke to high level administrators from across UPHS before making conclusions about Kelley. "It's a fair and balanced article," Fried maintains. "It's [Goodman's] perception that Kelley had a certain disconnect with people." But Ferniany's experience working with Kelley was nothing but positive. He said Kelley had high expectations for himself and his employees. "You have to sit down and look at his accomplishments," he said. "When you look at it in balance, you find a great man."Comments powered by Disqus
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