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Hospital Commissioner's Emails Reveal Personal Rivalries, Ethical Gray Areas

Broward Health Commissioner Robert Bernstein is known both for his emphasis on ethics and for his short temper. In a string of emails to the district's CEO, it appears he was torn between those two impulses.

On one hand, Bernstein was an enthusiastic supporter of ethics reform that occurred in 2007, when the district's charter was amended to include a "non-interference provision" that barred commissioners from involving themselves in the district's management, except to ask questions and get information from the CEO's office.

On the other hand, it's apparent that at approximately this time last year, Bernstein was furious about CEO Frank Nask's management decisions and managerial style. Bernstein suspected Nask of collaborating with Bernstein's rival on the commission, Joseph Cobo, to exclude Bernstein from having a role on favored hospital district policies.

Nask himself was bothered enough by Bernstein's emails to share them with then-Chief Operating Officer Spencer Levine, who forwarded them to the district's chief compliance officer, who monitors ethical issues, among other duties.

Excerpts of those emails after the jump, as well as the explanations now being offered by Nask and Bernstein.

The non-interference provision in the charter is what ensnared Cobo earlier this year. The commissioner was accused of tampering in district management in a way that would boost business for his physician consulting firm.

That internal investigation by the district is now part of a pending criminal investigation by the Broward State Attorney's Office.

The non-interference provision contains an exception through which commissioners can ask questions of the CEO; Bernstein had a loaded batch of them in his email of October 30, 2008: Why is a contracted heart surgeon getting favorable treatment compared to Broward Health employees in the cardiology department at North Broward Medical Center? Why was Bernstein not given a chance to review the resumes for the general counsel position that was open at that time? And why wasn't Nask consulting Bernstein about the district's home health-care agency?

Those questions led up to one last, even more loaded question:

Why have you ignored me on every single issue you know I have expertise on and all of a sudden Joe Cobo is your best friend and the guy who knows everything when a month ago you considered him the village idiot and you and (board chair) Mike (Fernandez) spent six months trying to get me to be the treasurer and then stabbed me in the back.
In his note, Bernstein forgot to put a question mark at the end of that question. Indeed, it sure sounds like it's more of a declarative statement than a question. His next line takes an even more threatening tone.
Just know I am not going away, and I look forward to the challenge of making sure everything at the district is run ethically, as it did before Alan [Levine] left. Things sure did change quickly around here.
Former CEO Alan Levine left the district in January 2008. He now holds a cabinet position under Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
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Thomas Francis

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