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Let Me Sum Up

John Wiley Price needs to chill. Parkland will hire a CEO when it is good and ready

Eric Celeste
Parkland Memorial Hospital
No good CEO candidate is going to take the job at Parkland until all the unsavory work is finished, or close to it. Photo by Conner Howell
Ron Anderson
Former CEO Ron Anderson turned the job down three times before he finally accepted it in 1982.
John Wiley Price
County Commissioner John Wiley Price needs to chill. It's okay that Parkland hasn't found a CEO yet. JohnWileyPrice.com
Larry Gentilello
Parkland whistleblower Dr. Larry Gentilello, who now lives and practices in California. Photo by Marissa Rocke Photography

Let me tell you a story about being the bad guy. When I went to Atlanta for a year to run the weekly newspaper’s editorial side, I was the designated bad guy. It was pretty clearly laid out to me by higher-ups in the company: The paper is for sale, coming out of bankruptcy, there may need to be staff turnover, culture change is required, etc.

I’m a big boy. I know what that meant: You’re not going there to be liked. You will probably have to fire people. It will be chaotic.

All of those things came to pass. The paper was sold. Pretty soon after that, I left. Now they have a longtime staffer in my place, someone who is well-liked by the employees and readers. Bad guy’s job: completed.

 There won’t be a CEO for a while, because there is still more bad-guy work to be done. And no good candidate is going to take the job until that unsavory work is finished, or close to it.

I tell you this as a prelude to answering County Commissioner John Wiley Price’s question that he asked this week, which was (paraphrasing slightly) the following: Why in the hell hasn’t a new CEO of Parkland Memorial been hired yet?

Answer: Because the bad guy’s job is not yet complete.

JWP was angry the other day, quizzing the Parkland board president on why it was taking so long to find a replacement for longtime CEO Ron Anderson.

Two things about this. One, it’s not that I believe Price was really angry. He was grandstanding because he’s still ticked that the former board president, appointed by him and who had proven herself loyal to JWP over the years, was no longer there. So he likes to make it seem as though things are a hot mess right now.

But JWP knows full well that, point No. 2, there won’t be a CEO for a while, because there is still more bad-guy work to be done. And no good CEO candidate is going to take the job until that unsavory work is finished, or close to it.

What sort of work are we talking about? Well, that’s somewhat debatable. I’m not going to rehash the years of Dallas Morning News reporting on Parkland. (CultureMap also did an exclusive interview with the whistleblower.) Suffice to say, if you’ve got a vacation coming up, and you’re all done with the Fifty Shades series but not with the whole anal fisting narrative, you can read the paper’s entire patient-crisis series here. That’s not a value judgment on the series, which the hospital itself and D Magazine have criticized. I’m just saying, you know, you read it and you think about this scene.

Just understand that because of those stories, and because of the hospital’s concurrent failures to show adequate patient-care oversight during federal inspections, the really unpleasant turnaround work is still being done. It takes time to restructure the bureaucracy, purge folks who are resistant to change, identify and eliminate systemic obstacles to providing acceptable patient care, reimagine the hospital’s relationship with UT Southwestern, rework and scale back the plans for a new building given money concerns, and so on.

No new CEO is going to step into that hornet’s nest. Which is fine, because it’s better for everyone if the bad guy does all this dirty work. (Guys, really: The interim CEO is in place, but really everyone is taking their cues from the monitors who are ensuring the hospital meet federal patient-care criteria.) I’ve talked to folks who’ve been part of the CEO search committee, and none of them is surprised that it is taking this long, nor do they think the process should be sped up.

“Who the hell would walk into that job without solid assurance that they could be successful?” one source told me. “I’m guessing that if any of the candidates are in negotiations with Parkland, they are demanding those assurances. I sure would.”

So it’s going to to take time. Nothing wrong with that. The Parkland board has to get this hire right. Say what you want about former CEO Ron Anderson’s performance during the past decade (even D’s Wick Allison called for his ouster nine years ago), but for the first 20 years on the job, he was exactly what Parkland and the city needed. And remember: He turned the job down three times before finally taking it.

So chill out, JWP. Let the bad guys do their dirty work. Then worry about which CEO you wanna hire. Because the best ones want to make sure they have at least a shot of being seen as the good guy.

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