Amid divisions between supporters and fire from some prestigious physicians, the top executive of University of Nebraska Medical Center has resigned.
Chancellor Carol Aschenbrener, M.D., who was credited with bringing a "corporate" approach to the daily operation of the medical center, said late last month she would resign effective Sept. 30. Her resignation came before University of Nebraska President L. Dennis Smith had the chance to review her performance, scheduled for a critique in the next 11 months.
"Now it will be up to President Smith and the board of regents to support UNMC in developing the partnerships that are essential for the survival of the academic mission," Aschenbrener said in a written statement. "I am intensely proud of our many faculty and staff who speak out for needed change and who always put the customer first, even when that meets opposition."
Aschenbrener noted that the nature of her position had changed, but she offered no other information about the reasons for her resignation. In July, an agreement between Alegent Health, an Omaha, Neb.-based system of six community hospitals, was postponed while UNMC attempted to settle differences with its physicians (July 29, p. 10). That decision came after 28 UNMC physicians said they were slighted by Aschenbrener, who oversees the university's medical school and health programs.
"While I am disappointed that we have come to this juncture, I believe her decision to resign is in the best interests of the university," Smith said.
Smith wasted little time naming a permanent successor. William Berndt, a veteran Nebraska University administrator for the past 14 years, will begin a two-year appointment as Aschenbrener's successor effective Oct. 1. Berndt is currently vice chancellor for academic affairs and served as UNMC chancellor for a 13-month interim period before Aschenbrener's tenure.
Her resignation came within days of a consultant's report on Aschenbrener's leadership, which was presented to Smith. Although Smith had yet to give Aschenbrener her formal evaluation, she was scheduled to have one sometime after Aug. 1, the beginning of her fifth year as chancellor.
The Omaha World-Herald reported Aschenbrener will continue to earn a $198,000 salary in the next year. The university said she has a faculty position as a pathology professor but will be taking a one-year leave of absence from that post. She will retain her salary, benefits and use of a leased car.
The fate of UNMC's proposed joint venture with Alegent, which operates hospitals in western Iowa and eastern Nebraska, was unclear in light of the resignation.
"With colleagues, I laid the foundation for a strong partnership with Alegent Health," Aschenbrener said. "We have made giant strides in developing a strategic planning process that integrates customer focus and targets resources to priorities."
Although the 28 upset physicians are a minority among the 666 full-time faculty members at the medical center, they are a powerful group that includes nationally known transplant surgeons and some hospital department chiefs.