UofL Firing of Vice President Sam Connally. Will The Truth Emerge?

Felner Redux?

Last December I wrote a follow-up story about the firing of UofL Vice President for Human Resources, Sam Connally, allegedly over his complaint of misconduct against Provost Shirley Willihnganz. These related to manipulation of the state Request For Proposal (RFP) purchasing process seeking a new health-plan manager for the University’s self-funded employee heath insurance benefit with a goal of obtaining a possible additional multi-million dollar gift from Humana, and also inappropriate Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filings. The University hired an outside attorney to investigate who determined that there was no merit to Mr. Connally’s claims.

In my mind, when you hire a lawyer, the expectation is that the best argument in favor of your position will result. A truly independent investigation would be paid for by someone else. I was reminded of UofL President Ramsey’s default response when confronted by numerous accusations of misconduct against former School of Education Dean Robert Felner by characterizing them as “anonymous c**p.” (Dr. Feller subsequently went to jail.) In my first article, I asked for a truly independent outside audit perhaps by State Auditor Edelen, and also asked the Board of Trustees to do their duty. On the basis of the investigation and the recommendation of University administration, the Board approved the firing of Connally.

In my opinion, at least one of Connally’s allegations was eminently believable. I personally witnessed and reported the casual ease with which our highest current University officials were willing to sidestep RFP and other state law. No penalty or even public admonition was given by state or law officials. Why not try it again? The University health plan has been used before to support University— as opposed to employee— interests. For example, changing plan managers simply to keep UofL faculty in provider networks, or cutting the relative compensation of employees who obtained their health insurance outside the University by not providing them the full value of the benefit (as had been done previously). When I was hired, I was promised that when I retired, UofL would pay for the full cost of a Medicare supplement policy including drug coverage. When I actually did retire from the full-time faculty, I received neither benefit. I have always wondered how older retirees were treated.

More shoes falling.
In any event, lacking any additional information, I stepped back from the matter to await what I anticipated would be further revelations, perhaps in the form of a lawsuit. That time is now. In the past week, two things happened that indicate that the Connally matter is far from settled. On Feb 4, it was announced that University Provost Shirley Willihnganz unexpectedly resigned as Executive Vice President and Provost. A University spokesperson said the resignation was voluntary and unrelated to the allegations made by former Vice President Connally. On the same day, Mr. Connally submitted a public letter providing clarification and new details about his allegations against the Provost and the fairness of the “investigation.” In great measure, one motivation for his letter is to make it perfectly clear that “David Jones, Sr., and Humana executives are blameless in this sad episode.” (I can’t imagine either that the company or its co-founder and former CEO would have participated in such a scheme.) Coincidently, the UofL Board of Trustees had their usual scheduled meeting the next day. Perhaps not coincidently, at the end of the meeting a prolonged executive session of the Board and University lawyers was held which was not on the agenda. I suspect it was to deal the resignation and Connally’s letter.

The allegations in this new letter are troubling, including that UofL is using health care premiums for non-healthcare purposes. If Connally’s description of the extent and conduct of the external review investigation of his allegations are true, its fairness is in my opinion disturbingly compromised. Apparently, at least some of the events Connally describes are documented in the public domain. Let’s see that documentation.

Mr. Connally reasonably concluded his letter with the following:

“I do not expect your readers to take my word for these representations at face value, but in any “he said/she said” environment, the astute reader will ignore what both sides are saying and “just follow the money.” The money chase will lead to the truth as it always does. This is why God created courts and judges and juries – so that the truth will ultimately be discovered and known by those who care.”

Fair enough. However, I have said it before, and I will say it again. The time is long past for a high level and truly independent financial and administrative audit of the University of Louisville, including its Medical School. In my opinion, the credibility necessary to engender public trust in the ability of the University to evaluate itself has been badly compromised.  I call on the Attorney General’s office and the State Auditor to take appropriate oversight action. This is after all, not a private institution flapping in the breeze, but a public one. The public deserves more reassurance than we have now that the University of Louisville is being responsibly and ethically managed, and that its highest priority remains educating Kentuckians.

Peter Hasselbacher, MD
President, KHPI
Emeritus Professor of Medicine, UofL
February 10, 2015

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