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If You Build It, Will They Come?

On Friday, January 31, the local media were summoned to the fifth floor of the Gates Vascular Institute, the new eight-story glass cube that shows up in all of the advertisements for Kaleida Health these days. What is immediately striking about the building on the inside is its vast emptiness and mind-numbing silence—like the set for a science fiction movie before the actors and crew arrive for work.

But this was 11 o’clock on a Friday morning. Where was everybody? Could this really be the heart of all the innovation and synergy we’ve been reading about these many years? It was like being in church, but with no service going on. At the end of a long concourse there seemed to be some activity. As I approached, several rows of chairs came into focus, and I could see some local TV reporters with their camera people. Then I could see a big blue curtain hung in front of the massive window at the building’s north face, and in front of that a white banner about eight feet square, with 18 Great Lakes Health logos stamped all over it. In front of that there was a 10-foot long narrow table with a three-foot blue scrim to match the curtain behind. On the table sat two microphones. Each mic had a nameplate before it. One read Robert Gioia, who is the chairman of the Great Lakes Health System of WNY. The other read John Koelmel, who is a board member of both Great Lakes Health and Kaleida Health. To their left stood a dais, also emblazoned with the Great Lakes Health logo. The stage was set.

The news had already broken that morning James Kaskie, the CEO of Kaleida Health—who had been paid $2.3 million in 2009, $2.4 million in 2010, and $1.5 million in 2011, according to the most recent tax forms filed by the private not-for-profit—had suddenly been sent packing by the Kaleida board of directors, who unanimously felt that a change in leadership was necessary. Koelmel started things off by thanking Kaskie for his service. At the top of his accomplishments was “the opening of this incredible, world-class facility where we sit this morning—the heart of the Medical Campus.” Empty though it may have been at the time, aside from the press conference.

He stressed that they would be breaking ground in a few short months on the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital a few blocks away. “No waffle, no wobble, no wiggle—I say that for the benefit of the man sitting next to me and the Oishei organization he leads, who have so generously provided funding, confidence, and support of that new facility,” he added.

There was also discussion of possible layoffs at Kaleida, which undermines the mantra of medical campus job creation. More troubling, it may even be that Kaleida is having trouble heating its buildings.


Koelmel said the leadership change was about “more effectively collaborating with ECMC and UB—to create the best health care system in the region.” To that end, they were announcing that Jody Lomeo, the current CEO of Erie County Medical Center—a public benefit corporation—was now also the interim CEO of the private, not-for-profit Kaleida Health.

Such a bold managerial move could only have been dreamed up by the board of the Great Lakes Health System of Western New York—the umbrella group that formed during the heyday of the Berger Commission with the aim of taking over the public ECMC for the benefit of the private Kaleida. When the law and the courts ruled that couldn’t be, Great Lakes Health began taking on a much lower profile. In fact, previous to the announcement of Kaskie’s departure on Friday, the Great Lakes Health website had not offered any news to the public since its 2009 Report to the Community. They continue to hold public meetings, but anything concerning the private Kaleida Health is conducted in executive session, hidden from the eyes and ears of the public.

There may be a flaw, however, in this plan to install ECMC CEO Lomeo as CEO of what is technically a competing health system: It might be illegal.

A lawyer from the New York State Joint Commission of Public Ethics (JCOPE) told Artvoice that Lomeo—as a public employee making $700,000 per year—would need to have such an appointment approved by JCOPE. He pointed to part 932 of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations, which states, in part: “No covered individual shall engage in any outside activity which interferes or is conflict with the proper and effective discharge of such individual’s official duties or responsibilities.”

There is a procedure that must be gone through before such approval can be given, but it appears those steps have not yet been taken. Violation of part 932 can play out like this:

In addition to any penalty contained in any provision of law, a knowing and intentional violation of this Part by an individual subject to it may result in appropriate action taken by the State Ethics Commission or referral by it to the individual’s appointing authority. The appointing authority, after such a referral, may take disciplinary action which may include a fine, suspension without pay or removal from office or employment in the manner provided by law.

In addition, the Great Lakes Health System of WNY itself has questionable authenticity. It is listed as a domestic not-for-profit corporation formed on October 25, 2007, but there is no record that it ever filed tax returns according to the IRS, and no record of it on the charity website Guidestar. According to its earliest board meeting minutes from 2007, when the entity was still being called “Newco,” there was talk of getting approval from the New York State Department of Health under Article 28 to be certified as a hospital system. No one at the Department of Health has been able to verify that that ever took place.

The phone number for Great Lakes Health goes straight to a receptionist for Kaleida. Despite the logos and appearance of legitimacy so blatantly on display for the cameras at Friday’s press conference, it may well be that this Great Lakes Health umbrella organization is little more than a discussion group made up of powerful men who are deciding the future of the much ballyhooed medical campus.

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