In the eight weeks since he became interim CEO at Summa Health, Dr. Cliff Deveny has been on an extensive listening tour.

He’s been meeting with employees, from the housecleaning staff to nurses to physicians, church leaders, donors, government officials and “nearly every hospital leader in Northeast Ohio,” he said.

Deveny knew what he was getting into when he took the job in late February.

The Akron native agreed to return on March 13 to Summa, where he had spent about 20 years of his career, to help move it forward after CEO and President Thomas Malone resigned under pressure following an emergency department physician staffing crisis at the start of the year.

The hospital also lost its ability to train new emergency medicine residents, effective July 1, when a national accreditation agency suspended the program after citing violations ranging from patient care issues to a culture of intimidation and retribution for the doctors in training. The agency also said the new ER physicians brought in to train the doctors did not have enough expertise.

On Thursday, Deveny took his first major action, announcing a major leadership change. He eliminated the top two administrative positions and the people holding those positions, whom many believed were at the center of the crisis, in addition to Malone.

Deveny said he did not cut those positions and flatten the administrative structure because of the ER troubles. Preliminary financial results for the first quarter were “disappointing” and the hospital needs to improve its financial performance by $40 million, by cutting costs and/or boosting revenue, he said.

Rallying for Summa

Deveny said the community, including patients, staff and doctors, can affect the future of Summa — the city’s largest employer with 8,000 people.

“We can continue to tear Summa down. We can all fight. We can all be fragmented. Or we can all focus on how we rally around an institution which has been told to me in the last eight weeks is very important to the community,” Deveny said.

“I need people to rally around helping me understand what we can do to improve. Everything is on the table at this point. I’d like it to be more of a community decision than one or two executives making decisions that are tragic and destructive,” he said.

Deveny acknowledged that while he was not at Summa during the trouble, he believes the problems were “self-inflicted.”

While not naming Malone specifically, Deveny said he heard during his employee meetings that “everything by management was by email, management by decree versus having more open frank conversations with folks. I think our folks managed by the negative rather than the constructive.

“There has been vengeance. There has been fear. All those things I think are valid. Guilty as charged,” he said.

The discontent led to a vote in which hundreds of physicians expressed no confidence in Malone.

So now it’s Deveny and his smaller leadership team’s job to become solution-oriented, he said.

He said Summa must become more specific about its strategic plan and collect input about it from more people.

“We haven’t won everybody over. There’s a lot of people looking to see if this is sustainable. A lot of that is out of fear. A lot of that is people not having hope or not confident of the future,” Deveny said.

Collaboration

Physicians said Deveny’s approach is different from Malone’s.

Deveny said he’s trying to bring back the collaborative atmosphere that he and other physicians say they had for years before the Malone administration.

Before Deveny released the memo about staff changes Thursday morning, he phoned Drs. Dale Murphy, John Zografakis and Hitesh Makkar, the former, current and future presidents of the medical staff.

“This begins the sense of us working together now rather than being horribly divided,” said Murphy, immediate past president.

With Deveny’s leadership “and with all of us working our tails off, we have a chance to return Summa to its position of prominence in this community and in this region,” Murphy said.

Makkar, medical staff vice president, said Deveny didn’t have to call the doctors before the memo, but it showed Deveny “respects us and wants us involved. That speaks volumes to him compared to his predecessor.”

Deveny said his goal is to be at various Summa facilities 80 percent of the time. He said he likes to roam the halls and talk to staffers.

He said the administrative offices will stay at Gorge Boulevard, one of Malone’s controversial moves, because of a lack of space at City Hospital. But Deveny has an office on the City campus, and he’s implemented a weekly video released to staffers every Friday called “Cliff Notes.”

Other topics

Among other topics Deveny addressed with the Beacon Journal:

•?Interim role: Deveny said it is premature to discuss whether he would want to be considered for the permanent CEO position. “I was hired specifically as an interim to deal with the transition and to deal with the culture and to get Summa into a path of sustainability.”

•?Living arrangements: Deveny is renting an apartment at the downtown Northside Lofts. His wife, Sandy, is an ER physician in Colorado. She has visited, but is one of a handful of physicians and staffers who take care of 17,000 undocumented and uninsured people at a federally qualified health center. He said it’s not fair to “pull her away from her mission.”

•?Doctors and nurses calling for the return of Summa Emergency Associates (SEA): Summa officials have steadfastly said that will not happen. Deveny on Thursday said there is a “mature contract with USACS (US Acute Care Solutions) and there is no reason that either side has breached.”

•?Summa’s relationship with Western Reserve Hospital, with whom it has had protracted legal battles: Deveny has met with Dr. Robert Kent, president and CEO of Western Reserve, as well as other officials and has toured the hospital, which Summa still owns. Deveny said he wants to re-engage the parties to see how they can work together.

“I want to be friendly exes who are best friends. There’s no reason the original vision can’t be realized of a physician-owned hospital that is part of a system of care.”

In response, Kent said: “I am encouraged from these early talks, and believe our organizations are now heading down a path that will allow for the development of a new and constructive relationship, one much different than what is now in place.

•?The controversial dress code implemented under Malone, which among other things requires that women must wear pantyhose: Deveny has heard a lot about it and will create a committee of employees to re-evaluate it.

•?The soon-to-be displaced 21 ER residents, who will have to move to other programs: “Nobody wanted this for any of them,” Deveny said. The medical staff and hospital have kicked in money to give to residents for moving allowances. Deveny said he doesn’t know how long it will take to re-establish the ER residency program, but hospital officials are committed to getting off probation and getting the residency program back.

•?The future of Summa as a locally owned hospital: Deveny said other hospital systems are coming to Akron and the region. The mandate for Summa is to stay locally owned. Deveny said there may be opportunities with other providers for buying cooperatives or other partnerships.

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ  on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty