Governor avoiding feud that led to doctor firings

July 31, 1992|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Staff Writer Staff writers John W. Frece and Rafael Alvarez contributed to this article. LTC

Refusing to get dragged into a feud among doctors, Gov. William Donald Schaefer said yesterday that he is powerless to reinstate three prominent physicians to their jobs at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, but he is worried that continued "infighting" could damage the hospital.

Asked at a State House news conference if he would reverse the firings, Schaefer said: "No, that's not my prerogative. I don't want to destroy the darned Shock Trauma and I don't want it to be destroyed by a lot of infighting and name-calling."

The doctors -- surgeons Ameen Ramzy and C. Michael Dunham and critical-care specialist Howard Belzberg -- were among those who have opposed moves by officials of the University of Maryland Medical System to play a greater role in directing policy and hiring staff for the affiliated Trauma Center.

They were fired Tuesday by trauma chief Kimball I. Maull and ordered to leave the downtown hospital by today.

For many years, the 138-bed trauma center has exercised a large degree of autonomy despite its university affiliation. Today, the doctors are pinning their hopes on a city judge. Dr. Belzberg said that he and his two colleagues would ask a Circuit Court judge for an injunction that would temporarily block the firings. "Proper notice was not given, and we had a contract for at least one to two years," said Dr. Belzberg.

The governor hinted that he would leave personnel decisions to top officials of the University of Maryland Medical System.

Mr. Schaefer indicated that he had not ordered Dr. Maull last week to refrain from making any personnel changes until a new gubernatorial commission could assess the state's emergency medical system and suggest changes. "But I think he would have been smart to wait," Mr. Schaefer said. "I would have called up the governor . . . I don't think he is that nonpolitical not to understand that I'll be here another two years and four months. Twenty-four hours is a long time in politics."

Last night, the governor met with Dr. Morton I. Rapoport, chief executive officer of the University of Maryland Medical System, which includes Shock Trauma. Dr. Rapoport declined to discuss the conversation, saying only that there were no new developments. The governor could not be reached for comment.

Earlier, Mr. Schaefer acknowledged that a power struggle between Shock Trauma and the university has simmered for years. He said the center's founder and guiding spirit, Dr. R Adams Cowley, managed to ride over the tensions and preserve Shock Trauma's autonomy by the sheer force of his personality.

"He was a strong man. He'd take on the governor. He'd take on the president for the Shock Trauma unit. When Dr. Cowley left, some simmering problems came to the front." Dr. Cowley resigned as statewide emergency medical system director in 1989. He died last October of a heart ailment.

Yesterday, the president of the Maryland State Fireman's Association said he was confident that Shock Trauma would continue to be a top-flight center. But he said the state's volunteer rescue personnel were deeply distressed about the firings and concerned that other disruptions could follow. "When you lose three of the top physicians, you begin to wonder what's going on," said Bill Fleshman, president of the statewide organization of volunteer firemen and rescue personnel. "What's happening to our model system that's suddenly being dismantled?

"It creates a great deal of unrest in the field. Everybody immediately thinks everything is coming totally apart."

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