Hospital boss quits after cuts

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Siri Hatlen confirmed on Monday that she’s quitting as managing director of Norway’s largest hospital, Oslo University Hospital, after the hospital’s board demanded cost cuts amounting to around NOK 500 million a year. Hatlen had claimed only half that amount could be tolerated without adverse effects on patient care.

Siri Hatlen quit as head of Norway's largest hospital on Monday. PHOTO: Oslo University Hospital

Speculation had been flying since last week’s critical meeting when Hatlen and her staff were ordered to move forward with the full amount of cost cuts demanded. The hospital has been spending around NOK 50 million more than budgeted every month, but much of the amount is pegged to extraordinary expenses tied to the recent merger of four major hospitals in Oslo into Oslo University Hospital: Ullevål, Rikshospitalet (including the cancer treatment and research hospital known as Radium Hospitalet) and Aker Hospital.

Running the huge public-sector operation with so many conflicting professional, political and social interests is considered an impossible job by many. Hopes had been high when the respected Hatlen, with a solid track record of experience behind her, took over the challenging post two years ago. Now she’s clearly decided she’s had enough.

‘Difficult situation’
The official reason given for her resignation was “the difficult situation tied to the board’s handling of its long-term economic plan and further development of the merged operation.” Board leader Göran Stiernstedt said Hatlen’s resignation was accepted with consideration for “what is best for Oslo University Hospital in the current situation.” He noted that “disagreement between the board’s majority and managing director Siri Hatlen” had arisen during discussion of the budget and economic long-term plan.

Hatlen herself claimed that the huge merger of the hospitals will demand resources, cooperation and time in order to succeed. She also confirmed “disagreement” between the board majority and herself over what’s needed in order for the merger to succeed. In such a demanding situation, Hatlen said the managing director must have the full confidence of the board, “which I now believe is not the situation.”

She said she felt it necessary to step down, in order for the board and the hospital administration to have the calm it needs. She will, under terms of her standard contract, receive salary for the next 12 months unless she secures new work before the period is over. Deputy director Jan Eirik Thoresen was named acting managing director until her replacement is found. Thoresen is a doctor and earlier has been a director of Helse Midt-Norge, one of the state agencies that officially own Norway’s hospitals.

Years of drama
Hatlen’s resignation is the latest in a long line of dramatic administrative events at the hospital, which doctors and nurses routinely complain robs them of time to spend with patients. The merger itself has involved traumatic, some claim unnecessary, reorganization for thousands of hospital workers at a time when health care budgets are constantly under strain despite Norway’s vast oil wealth.

Calls were already going out for the Health Ministry to step in and “clean up” the bureaucratic conflict at the country’s largest hospital organization. Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen has tried to stay out of the conflict, to avoid more political meddling.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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