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In search of Memorial's truth 

City Councilman Jerry Heimlicher would like to stand behind Dick Eitel, wrap his arms around the disgraced ex-hospital boss and squeeze hard in the upper abdomen area until the truth pops out. This is a medical procedure known as the Heimlicher Maneuver.

Instead, on July 7, at the next informal Council meeting, Heimlicher will ask Council to approve a full audit of Memorial Hospital in the wake of Eitel's botched career as the city-owned facility's CEO. Let's review what we know about Eitel's final year or so at Memorial (proud new motto: "We Hear. We Heal. We All Think the Name Dick Was Pretty Ironic.")

Eitel eliminated or slashed raises and performance bonuses for hundreds of nurses and other workers as he mismanaged the hospital into debt. Yet he somehow found $250,000 for Memorial to sponsor the U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor, where Eitel's daddy was the longtime president and where a young Dick learned how to look down his nose at people.

The hospital's tournament perk: a big food and beverage tent, where Eitel's cronies and other guests can get all liquored up.

Another giveaway happened a year ago but was only discovered last week. Eitel wrote a check for $242,854 to Ron Burnside, a longtime buddy who was Memorial's human resources director and also enjoyed drinking and driving, having been arrested twice on those charges including in late 2006 when, legally drunk, he was clocked going 93 mph in a 55 mph zone.

Because the law treats everyone equally, the wealthy and well-connected Burnside got probation and a $595 fine. In 2001, another drinking and driving charge brought a deferred sentence and a smaller fine. Eitel's comment to the Gazette on the '06 arrest: "I think he showed a lot of courage in coming forward and talking to myself and the board immediately about it."

So at least Burnside's a courageous drunk.

Anyway, Eitel paid his friend a year's salary up front, plus $64,082 in allegedly unused vacation and sick time if Burnside would retire a year early. Eitel did it, he now says, so a female employee could move into the job sooner.

Burnside jumped at the deal because, well, $242,854 buys a lot of booze and Formula 1 driving gloves. Carlene Crall, who'd been at the hospital one year, became HR director at $209,997, and this year got a raise to $219,440.

Let's talk with Heimlicher, between the blasts of steam coming out of his ears:

"Imagine that kind of salary for human resources people?" he begins. "These aren't brain surgeons. They're, well, human resources people. We used to call it the personnel office. And it's the same work."

Heimlicher quickly points out that Eitel ran the hospital into a financial swamp.

"The hospital no longer makes a profit or even breaks even," says Heimlicher, a fifth-year councilman and well-schooled businessman. He spent 38 years with Ford Motors, including a stint as president and CEO of Ford subsidiary Fairlane Credit, with 225,000 customers and $3 billion in loans.

Heimlicher recalled how, last year, Eitel said the hospital was going broke and begged Council for a $20 million payment from reserve funds. Council approved. The hospital's losses will, Heimlicher says, be worse this year.

"If Eitel remained in charge, Memorial would have depleted its reserve fund and would have had no choice but to come to us and ask for taxpayer money to run the place," Heimlicher says. "Luckily for everyone, he left."

Not, as the public was told, on his own.

"Eitel was forced out," Heimlicher says. "When the losses became so overwhelming and the gift to The Broadmoor came out, the hospital board of directors called Eitel in and said things had to change and he had to be accountable to the board. He told them he wouldn't do that, so he was forced out. It was time for him to leave. I'm glad he did."

Now Heimlicher wants the comprehensive audit, which could last a year.

"What don't we know?" Heimlicher asks. "What else might he have hidden? The auditors need to dig up everything and anything and find out what other stupid things this guy did."

Heimlicher did not mention the one good thing Eitel did for us. Free of charge, City Council and every one of us got a rectal exam.

rangerrich@csindy.com

  • City Councilman would like to implement his own method to squeeze out the real story.

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