Monday, January 9, 2012

The privileges of power

I just had to comment on the latest development in the never-ending saga of the Oslo University hospital merger of four large city hospitals and the health enterprise Health Southeast that owns this hospital. The managing director of the latter, Bente Mikkelsen, made it into the news big-time during the weekend, when it was reported that she was planning to participate in a five-month long course on strategic leadership at the NATO Defense College in, of all places, Rome, Italy! The course was to start in February, and was to be paid for by the Defense Department (the reason for its involvement was not explained), whereas the cost of room and board would have been paid by her employer. The total cost of the course plus room and board was outrageously expensive. She was also to retain her regular salary during her leave of absence. According to one of my colleagues, she had been interviewed on TV and had said that she looked forward to sitting outside in the warm Rome sun and drinking a glass of wine (wouldn’t we all love to be doing that). Her decision to take this course and to leave her directorial duties behind her in Oslo for five months did not meet with much support among hospital personnel at any level. And I can report that she was the butt of derisive jokes the entire day. After a massive uproar on the part of the public and hospital personnel, she dropped her intention to take the course. But she offered no apology for her poor judgment and timing.

Why did this incident garner so much media attention? Because she was planning to hightail it out of Norway at exactly the time the newly-merged hospital needs her to be there to oversee the progress associated with the merger that she set in motion at the behest of the current ruling political party—a merger that has proven to be quite controversial, difficult to achieve, and one that will cost more money than it will save. As Jay Leno once said to Hugh Grant on national TV when the latter had been caught doing something naughty—what were you thinking? The same question applies here. The hospital runs with a huge budget deficit at present. While the rest of us are told to save money, while budgets are being cut and employees are being laid off, it was ok for the managing director to spend money on a NATO course (still no explanation as to why she needs this course) and to talk about how much she looked forward to enjoying the warmth of Italy. Talk about lack of emotional intelligence. I’m sure those employees who have recently lost their jobs were thrilled to read this. I’m sure they wished her well and were appropriately concerned for her career progression. By the way, the answer to the question what was she thinking is--she wasn’t.

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