Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Mystery of UAB's "Lost" Administrator

Fans of the hit television series Lost--and Mrs. Schnauzer definitely is among them--should be intrigued by the David Hoidal story.

Who is David Hoidal?

He was named CEO in 2004 of the UAB Health System, the health-care arm of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), my former employer. He stayed in that position until his rather abrupt resignation in January 2008. According to news reports at the time, Hoidal and his wife planned to return to their native Midwest to help care for aging parents.

Did Hoidal wind up in his native South Dakota? Not exactly.

Turns out Mr. Hoidal is now chief executive officer of Al Rahba Hospital in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE). Last time I looked at a globe, United Arab Emirates is quite a distance from South Dakota.

So why did UAB and Hoidal offer the classic BS explanation about him leaving to "spend time with my family"? Let's examine that question for a moment.

Hoidal's resignation at UAB was fairly big news in the hospital-management world. That's probably because his colleagues in the field couldn't believe the explanation that was being put forth.

Here is what Hoidal said in a written statement about his departure from UAB:

"While my wife and I have enjoyed our many years in Alabama, our roots remain in the Midwest. At this point in our lives our priority is to spend more time with family, particularly our aging parents. It is with mixed emotions that I depart the UAB Health System, disappointed that I will not be an active participant in its continued growth and development, but delighted with our decision regarding family."

Hmmm, at some point it looks like Hoidal decided he had roots in United Arab Emirates, too. Those are some roots.

You will notice that Hoidal issued a written statement, a common practice at UAB's tight-lipped operation, and did not take questions from the press. That was probably a good idea, considering that reporter Jimmy DeButts of the Birmingham Business Journal reported that Hoidal was making more than $1 million a year at the time of his departure.

Had DeButts been granted an interview with Hoidal, one of his first questions probably would have been: "Why on earth can't a guy making more than $1 million a year afford to move his aging parents from South Dakota to Birmingham?"

Now we know that Hoidal's aging parents almost certainly had nothing to do with his decision to leave UAB. And we know that UAB appears to have intentionally deceived the public about what was behind the departure.

So why did David Hoidal leave UAB? As a former 19-year employee of the university--until I was cheated out of my job because of the contents of this blog--I can make a couple of educated guesses.

Guess No. 1--As we have reported several times, UAB allegedly has been involved in massive research fraud that, according to one whistleblower, totals $300 million or more. The university wound up settling the case with the government for a mere $3 million or so, a penalty that probably does not even qualify as a slap on the wrist. Hoidal had not been CEO of the Health System long when the settlement was reached. Part of the settlement agreement says the government can reopen a civil, administrative, or criminal investigation at any point--particularly if the problem has not been cleaned up. Is it possible that David Hoidal saw that UAB, having gotten off easy, was making no real effort to clean up its research-fraud mess? Is it possible that Hoidal was afraid UAB might become the target of a future investigation, and the university's leaders were likely to try to pin the blame on him? I would say there is a good chance that the answer to both questions is yes. And the "South Dakota" explanation probably was just a deception, designed to give Hoidal time to find another position--as far away as possible from UAB.

Guess No. 2--UAB has tried to build alliances in the Middle East before. Dr. Douglas Tilt left UAB Internal Medicine to spend two years in United Arab Emirates before returning to start The Camellia Medical Group, a boutique clinic for wealthy patients at UAB. The Camellia Medical Group is part of a trend called "concierge medicine," which has drawn criticism in some circles--particularly when practiced at a public university.

Was David Hoidal dispatched to United Arab Emirates in an effort to help bring boatloads of Middle-East cash to Birmingham? If that was the case, why didn't UAB simply tell the truth about its plans?

Why the subterfuge about South Dakota and aging parents?

Our enquiring Schnauzer mind will continue to look into these questions.


Rick D said...

Maybe they offered to pay him a WHOLE lot of money when they found out he was available, and that's why he changed his mind. People have been known to change their minds about retiring, or quitting.

Anonymous said...

Your not even close..

legalschnauzer said...

Feel free to enlighten us.