And then there were two.
Only two independent voices remain on the advisory boards of Lutheran Health Network and Lutheran Hospital after Tom Kelley submitted his resignation Friday, one day after Chuck Surack stepped down.
The local business leaders said their frustrations finally boiled over after seeing several high-quality administrators and doctors pushed out in what they described as payback for a failed takeover bid.
“I don't want people in this community to believe that I in any way condone what (Community Health Systems officials) are doing,” Kelley said in a phone interview. “It's a travesty.”
The number of people estranged from Lutheran Hospital and its network continues to grow. Three physicians on Friday afternoon resigned leadership positions on the Lutheran Health medical staff: Dr. James Cameron, Dr. Matt Carr and Dr. Marlene Bultemeyer. They will continue to treat patients, however.
Tensions between parent company CHS and local workers went public in late May when CHS rejected a $2.4 billion buyout offer orchestrated by 10 local doctors. The physicians wanted a private equity group to acquire majority control of Lutheran Health Network from Tennessee-based CHS.
Fort Wayne Physicians LLC leveled accusations at CHS of neglecting investment in Lutheran's eight-hospital network while CHS characterized the buyout attempt as amateurish. The parent company said it was unaware of local workers' concerns but would begin addressing them immediately.
CHS announced plans to invest $500 million in Lutheran's network over the next five or six years. Skeptics doubt the cash-strapped company will be able to fulfill that promise. Kelley and Surack are among those skeptics.
Mike Eikenberry and Bill Zielke, the remaining local advisory board members who aren't physicians, said Friday they are evaluating whether to continue their service on boards that have no official authority to direct the health care network.
Zielke, who missed this week's monthly meeting, acknowledged that he might have also felt compelled to resign, depending on what transpired there. Until he gets more feedback from Surack and Kelley, Zielke plans to maintain his more-than-two-decade membership on the boards.
“I'm committed to the hospital and the brand and the community,” he said. “It's too soon for me ... to walk away at this point.”
CHS spokeswoman Tomi Galin described in an email the roles Surack, Kelley and others were expected to play.
“Lutheran Hospital's Board of Trustees is an advisory board that is comprised of physicians on the medical staff, community members and hospital leadership,” she wrote. “The primary responsibilities of the board include activities to assess and preserve the overall quality of care provided at the hospital, medical staff credentialing and building community relationships. Thoughtful input and support from board members is important to every hospital.”
Lutheran officials will work to fill the vacancies created by Surack and Kelley's resignations, she said.
Those aren't the only positions that must be filled.
In a joint resignation letter, Cameron, Carr and Bultemeyer cited the ouster of former CEO Brian Bauer and departures of chief medical officers Geoffrey Randolph and Matt Sutter as having “created a wide chasm between administration and the medical staff.”
“Although we had the most sincere intentions of guiding the medical staff in the years to come, the events of the past days and weeks have shown that this process will take more than we could individually or collectively accomplish without compromising the quality of care we provide to our patients,” they wrote.
Interim CEO Mike Poore distributed the letter to Lutheran staff in an email, which linked to the resignation letter.
“We appreciate their leadership and service to the medical staff, and we look forward to working with them as they continue to provide quality care to our patients,” Poore said in his email. “As the medical staff works to identify its new officers, we stand ready to assist in that process as needed and appropriate.”
That might not be enough to satisfy the disgruntled doctors.
“We would urge you to publicly recognize the necessity of working with the medical staff of your hospital and the sense of loyalty that our community, employees and staff hold dearly before it's too late,” they wrote at the end of the joint resignation.
Kelley, a local auto dealer, also submitted his resignation Friday. During a phone interview, Kelley said the last straw for him was the departure of the St. Joseph Hospital doctor who saved Kelley's life almost two years ago. St. Joe is part of the Lutheran network.
Dr. Brian Youn, the man who correctly diagnosed Kelley with a rare, life-threatening skin condition in 2015, left St. Joe before the rift between the Lutheran community and CHS went public.
“I had some concerns over how St. Joe was being run,” Youn said Friday, when he was contacted at Fort Wayne's VA Medical Center. “It was an opportunity for me to leave, and I took it to go to the VA.”
Nevertheless, Youn said he left St. Joe on good terms.
Kelley offered a different interpretation of Youn's departure.
“To fire somebody like that is ridiculous. (CHS) can call it anything they want, but it's retaliation,” he said. “It just rips your heart out. It just shouldn't be happening to these people.”
Even so, Kelley said he wouldn't hesitate to seek care at Lutheran network hospitals.
“I am amazed how great a care these people – under all the strain and adversity – have been able to deliver,” he said.
Galin, the corporate spokeswoman, maintained an upbeat attitude in her email.
“The focus at Lutheran Hospital and across the network continues to be on investments that position the network for long-term success and that further advance the high-quality patient care that is provided by these hospitals,” she wrote.
Zielke, who has held various corporate executive positions, has been on Lutheran's board through five CEOs and three parent companies. He's eager to see how CHS officials try to repair their strained relationship with the local Lutheran staff and supporters.
“I think it's an incredible challenge ahead of them,” he said. “It's one of the biggest corporate fiascoes I've seen.”