UPDATED: Criticism was flying this week after another top public official had to resign amidst great conflict but nonetheless quickly was granted another public sector job with a big paycheck. This time the man in question is Dr Bjørn Erikstein, who resigned under pressure Monday as director of the Oslo University Hospitals (OUS) and ultimately ended up with a golden parachute.
The hospital board, caught in a huge conflict over their plans to shut down OUS’ and Norway’s biggest hospital, Ullevål, stressed that it had confidence in Erikstein, who “chose himself” to resign. He had backed the controversial plan to close Ullevål and replace it with two new hospitals that will split up its renowned emergency care facility.
Doctors, nurses and all the labour organizations representing OUS employees oppose the shutdown, and also warn the new planned facilities won’t be big enough to replace Ullevål. They collectively sent a declaration of a lack of confidence in Erikstein, who specialized as an oncologist before going into public administration.
“Now enough is enough,” said Erikstein after signing an agreement to resign. He’d lasted seven years in a job widely viewed as one of the toughest in the country. He also had a clause in his contract that directors of state-controlled enterprises can ask to be transferred to another position and retain 80 percent of their pay, which in Erikstein’s case was around NOK 2.2 million (USD 260,000) a year.
Newspaper Klassekampen could later report that Erikstein’s new job as a “special adviser in Oslo hospital service” would still carry a salary of NOK 1.7 million. That’s more than the prime minister earns, and it unleashed more criticism. Newspaper Dagsavisen wrote how “top leaders in the public sector aren’t fired anymore” but board leader Gunnar Bovim defended the move, claiming the position created for Erikstein would benefit from his “special competence and network.” Erikstein’s new task, Bovim stated, would be to “coordinate” completion of a project meant to integrate forensic pathology into the hospitals.
‘Clean cut’ better
He only lasted two days in the newly created post. Dagsavisen reported Friday that both Erikstein and Bovim apparently changed their minds and decided, as criticism swirled, that it would be better if Erikstein just made a “clean cut” from his employment at the hospital. Even though he allegedly opted to resign himself and was not fired, he was granted a golden parachute in the form of a severance agreement equal to one year’s pay.
“A request for a clean cut came both from him and from the (employee) organizations,” Bovim told Dagsavisen. “We have had some conversations, and those of us on the board have had some conversations, and we decided that we had to define a clear end.” Bovim did his best to justify the move, and put as positive a spin on the hospitals’ leadership crisis as possible:
“My evaluation is that these special leadership positions, where it’s natural to be available around the clock, are not protected by labour laws in the same way other employees are,” Bovim said. He claimed he did not view Erikstein as getting any special treatment or privileges.
Erikstein’s opponents are now hoping Norway’s health minister and the rest of the government, which officially owns Norwegian hospitals, will ignore Erikstein’s support of the hospital reorganization plans and block them.