El Camino CEO fired 'without cause'
Hospital mum on details of Graham's ouster; mixed emotions from community, employees
Last week El Camino Hospital announced — with very little explanation — that its CEO will leave the organization at the end of the current fiscal year, taking a severance package worth nearly $1 million.
However, if the hospital has remained quiet on the issue, hospital employees and community members have not.
Tej Singh, a vascular surgeon at El Camino, said he felt Graham got a raw deal.
"He was a very good CEO," Singh said, noting that he believed politics — not performance — were behind Graham's termination.
Pat Briggs, president of the hospital's nurses union, said she does not feel strongly one way or the other about Graham's departure, although she was not entirely surprised by the news. According to her, there had been signs that Graham might be asked to leave in the months preceding the announcement, including criticism from the board of directors about the communication of hospital financials.
At 4 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 10, an official El Camino press release was sent to the local media explaining that Ken Graham's contract will be terminated June 30, "without cause, at the request of the hospital's board of directors."
According to documents supplied by hospital spokeswoman Chris Ernst, Graham will be paid 18 months of his base salary in one lump sum upon his termination. The CEO currently makes $632,640 annually, which would put his severance payment at $948,960. He will also be entitled to 18 months of health, dental and vision insurance.
The official statement included comments from Wesley Alles, chairman of the hospital's board of directors, as well as from Graham. The release, which was short and tightly worded, focused on Graham's accomplishments, and both Alles and the exiting CEO maintained a positive tone.
During his time at El Camino, Graham oversaw the construction of the new, seismically sound, state-of-the-art hospital building, Alles. Graham also presided over the acquisition and opening of El Camino's Los Gatos campus, a fact not mentioned in the release.
In the days following the announcement, the Voice has received e-mails and comments on our website's Town Square public forum, which have alternately expressed shock and relief at the news of Graham's departure.
Certain people identifying themselves as hospital employees said they believe that Graham's termination is long overdue; others, including an El Camino surgeon, said the CEO was doing a fine job.
One commenter on Town Square, posting under the handle "It is About Time!" wrote, "I am very appreciative that he will finally be gone."
That comment drew reactions from another user, "Fed Up," who defended the CEO and expressed disappointment with "the decision to terminate Graham, with little to no transparency."
Graham presided over one of the toughest financial periods El Camino has faced in more than a decade. In July 2010 the hospital began its current fiscal year in the red and in September announced that about 140 employees, including service workers, nurses, and administrators, would likely lose their jobs.
However, while some administrative positions were ultimately cut, thanks to negotiations and a massive shuffling of positions, no nurses or service workers were forced to leave. And although the fiscal year started bleakly, the hospital appears to be on track to turn a profit by the fiscal year's end on June 30.
Briggs, the nurses' union president, acknowledged that the CEO has accomplished many things during his tenure, but noted he has also rubbed many hospital employees the wrong way — including many of the nurses.
In November, in a split decision, the hospital's board imposed a "last, best and final offer" contract on its nurses, drawing ire from the nurses union, Professional Resource for Nurses, or PRN. The decision, which two board members opposed, was supported by Graham, and he was criticized by many PRN members for that support.
"That had to have had an affect on the board and their attitude and perception of management, specifically Ken," Briggs said.
Briggs seconded the Town Square critique concerning transparency of the board's decisions.
"The board has a huge lack of transparency," she said, criticizing the board for making the majority of its decisions in closed session and holding its meetings in a way that is confusing for the public and the press.
For his part, Graham — who will maintain all of his responsibilities until his contract ends — is declining to speak to the press, sticking to the short statements he has released via e-mail.
"As with all CEOs, it is my role to serve at the will of the Board," Graham wrote. "The El Camino Hospital team has had many accomplishments in the past 4 1/2 years, and I am confident that the hospital will continue to do very well."
The hospital has remained meticulously reticent since making the announcement last Thursday, and officials, reached mostly through e-mail, have offered little insight into the board's decision, other than to repeat the message that his termination was "without cause."
Alles has been charged with forming an executive search committee to find a replacement for Graham. He said the hospital is hoping to find someone with at least 10 years of experience in a senior management position for a public or a district hospital, who is a visionary leader and who has a strong track record unifying organizations and communicating well with the community.
The chairman is confident that the ideal candidate won't be too difficult to come by, noting the hospital's reputation as a leader in technologically advanced medicine and the desirable living in the surrounding community.