The ouster of Hamilton Health Sciences’ president and chief executive has been more than a week old, but now we are learning more about the conflict. The larger questions, though, remain: What happened, and why did it happen?
During that time, Steven Epstein, who had led Hamilton’s cardiac surgery department for the previous 14 years, received a letter of written resignation. The key factor in the vote, the letter said, was Mr. Epstein’s chronic absenteeism. He hadn’t appeared at work in 30 days, according to the letter. Mr. Epstein said he could have been absent for just as long.
According to that letter, which was published on various academic news websites, Mr. Epstein “feels his health is in danger if he continues to serve in his current role at Hamilton as well as his health and family are threatened.”
Hamilton’s faculty has confirmed those details. But the letter didn’t acknowledge, nor did Mr. Epstein, the leadership team or the board of trustees that oversee the school. Nor did the board even make any mention of Mr. Epstein’s “adverse actions,” when they met to oust him. The board, they said, was caught off guard when they received his resignation letter.
So what happens now? Hamilton Health Sciences remains intact, and Mr. Epstein remains president and chief executive of the school.
So the Board of Trustees is searching for a replacement. A statement released by the school on Sunday, Sept. 10, is some of the most direct words on the matter yet. In it, it cites “ongoing policy issues and operational failures” with Hamilton’s cardiac surgery department as contributing to Mr. Epstein’s ouster.
The statement hints that Mr. Epstein’s role in the department, and especially that of heart surgery, would be changed in the future. It reads, in part:
“(T)he Board of Trustees believes the next president and chief executive officer of Hamilton will be an instrumental leader of the cardiac surgery faculty and will develop and implement a more focused and efficient business model and procedures.”
Mr. Epstein himself didn’t seem phased by the statement, when asked to comment by The Times. As of Monday, he declined to comment on his future.
He may not have wanted to make a statement when first asked to do so earlier this week. The description of the heart surgery department in Hamilton’s statement is, perhaps, the most direct one yet. But that description still leaves much to be clarified. Hamilton, unlike most hospitals, does not publicly report the number of heart surgeries it performs. However, from data collected and shared online, it looks like Hamilton is in the top 10.
Hamilton’s staff assembled in a darkened conference room in midtown Manhattan to receive the news about Mr. Epstein’s dismissal. The decision was made by the 24 faculty members of the school, who voted “nay” in the administration’s favor. That also included the 15 directors of the Faculty Association of Hamilton Health Sciences, which works with the administration.
Mr. Epstein left the meeting in a disheveled haze, one Hamilton faculty member said. “Mr. Epstein smelled like he’d had a little too much to drink.”
Mike Deller, an associate professor in the department of cardiovascular medicine, was among those who voted against Mr. Epstein’s departure. He said, though, that he thought the board should have addressed the details of the situation more clearly.
“I feel that the board really didn’t have the best answers in front of them. Their presentation of it, to me, was confusing. They were vague, evasive, contradictory,” he said. “All I can say is that I’m sure the board is trying to decide which side to take on this. I think the board wants to put Mr. Epstein’s tenure as a failure.”