Heads of clinics go after Klaas

Urmas Klaas.

PHOTO: Kristjan Teedema

Heads of 19 departments of the Tartu University Hospital ran out of patience yesterday and issued a public address calling for the resignation of the hospital’s supervisory board chairman, Mayor of Tartu Urmas Klaas over failure to perform duties and enabling an emotionally violent management style in the supervisory board refusing to even discuss the conduct of CEO Priit Eelmäe.

Heads of the hospital’s clinics find that the supervisory board fails to understand that a conflict between Eelmäe and the staff is not something that might happen but has already happened and been ongoing for the past 18 months.

“Priit Eelmäe is unfit to run the Tartu University Hospital as he lacks the necessary skills, knowledge, personal traits and will. A leader who does not wish to cooperate with their team displays indifference in their work,” the address reads.

The undersigned mention that they are not opposed to a campaign to modernize the structure of the hospital, fixed-term employment contracts or competitions to find heads of units.

The letter reads that the supervisory board chairman tolerates behavior that has led the hospital into a crisis and that the undersigned see the resignation of both Eelmäe and Urmas Klaas as the only solution.

“The CEO must leave immediately. It is the first and non-negotiable condition for restoring peace. The supervisory board chairman must resign and take responsibility for having failed in his task and for empowering continued emotional violence in the way the hospital is run. The fault lies with the entire supervisory board. The latter has failed to appreciate the balance between the university (University of Tartu – ed) and the hospital and take sensible steps to strike that balance,” the department heads write.

Head of the hospital’s internal medicine clinic, University of Tartu Dean of Medicine Margus Lember was among the undersigned. He said that the signatories believe it is important for the structural reform to go ahead, while the supervisory board must also take action to that effect.

“It needs to be preceded by item one, that it is impossible to continue working with the CEO. All these reform plans are well and good, but they constitute future steps,” Lember said, adding that the matter of Priit Eelmäe was not even discussed during the previous supervisory board meeting.

“It has been said that the issue with the CEO will not be put on the agenda, nor will any feedback be given,” Lember said. He added that responsibility lies with the supervisory board that is run by the chairman.

Urmas Klaas wrote in a letter to heads of clinics after a supervisory board meeting on Friday that the board decided to form a structural management working group and invites participants to meet and discuss matters on February 13. “We need to be inclusive, that much is clear,” Klaas explained.

The supervisory board learned of the unit managers’ declaration via the media on Tuesday. Klaas said that the supervisory board is fully aware of a management crisis at the hospital.

He said that the Tartu University Hospital is a networked hospital made up of 17 clinics, 10 medical services and 11 support services that all answer to the management board and described the current management model as unsustainable. “We cannot boil it down to the personal question of Priit Eelmäe,” Klaas said, adding that the supervisory board has confronted Eelmäe and the CEO has admitted mistakes.

The supervisory board and heads of clinics last met in the middle of January, with the latter protesting the participation of Priit Eelmäe. Urmas Klaas said he hopes unit managers will agree to Eelmäe attending the February 13 meeting. In addition to changes to the management structure and the management crisis, the sides have other matters to discuss, such as negotiating the hospital’s treatment volume and contracts with the Health Insurance Fund.

“Who will be leading those negotiations if we continue fighting amongst ourselves? What kind of a position will we have going into talks if we keep undermining ourselves in this manner?” Klaas asked.

Klaas talked to Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik, University of Tartu Rector Toomas Asser and Tartu University Hospital CEO Priit Eelmäe yesterday, in addition to several doctors and the president of the medical association. The mayor said that the conversations made it clear change is needed and that reforms are on the right track. “Let us step out of the shadow of these words and end this sandbox mentality! Let us talk face-to-face and involve the chairman of the management board in the conversation,” Klaas urged.

Head of the hospital’s oncology clinic Peeter Padrik disagrees with most of his colleagues and did not participate in putting together the public letter. “I believe that executives cannot proceed based on group mentality,” Padrik explained.

“I find that handling affairs by concentrating on the personal character of single person in an institution as big as this one is not constructive,” he said. Padrik has met with CEO Priit Eelmäe since the scandal broke to discuss problems and finds that cooperation is possible.

The doctor said that the supervisory board took a step toward a possible solution in January by creating the structural reform working group.