The American Medical Association kicked off a national search for a new chief executive earlier this month, sending letters and e-mails to about 1,700 "physician leaders" asking for help in identifying a replacement for fired E. Ratcliffe Anderson Jr., M.D.
"We're reaching out to our core constituents and asking for their help in identifying the best candidates for this important position," said Donald Palmisano, M.D., a New Orleans surgeon who is chairman of the search committee for the AMA's new executive vice president. "With all the challenging issues facing physicians and their patients today, we're looking for a proven leader who can step in and make a difference."
Anderson, who earned about $650,000 a year in salary and benefits, filed a lawsuit against the AMA on the second day of the organization's annual meeting in Chicago in mid-June, demanding more than $5 million in damages for an alleged breach of contract and defamation of character.
The bitter legal battle was another blow to the struggling AMA, which dismissed Anderson less than two weeks after he filed the suit.
While the AMA looks for a new leader, a 12-member committee is in the midst of investigating the charges in Anderson's complaint. He claims that the AMA board of trustees improperly blocked his effort to fire legal counsel Michael Ile, who allegedly sold a parcel of AMA land in downtown Chicago for about $13.5 million below its market value. Ile was protected, Anderson said, because he provided cover for top AMA officials in the failed Sunbeam Corp. endorsement deal in 1997.
Members of the committee, which was formed shortly after the AMA's annual meeting, will not comment until the investigation is complete, a spokesman for the Chicago-based doctors' group said. The committee will hire its own legal counsel to look into Anderson's charges.
Anderson's initial complaint was filed against the AMA and one of its top leaders, Timothy Flaherty, M.D., chairman of the board of trustees. Flaherty is charged in the original lawsuit with defamation of character. Earlier this month, Anderson filed an amended complaint, which alleges that his dismissal was a violation of his contract (Aug. 13, p. 9). It also added two new defendants-D. Ted Lewers, M.D., the former chairman of the board of trustees; and former AMA president Thomas Reardon, M.D.
AMA officials would not comment on the lawsuit.
While the search begins for a new chief executive, the AMA's day-to-day operations are being run by Robert Gilmore, M.D., deputy executive vice president. Gilmore, like Anderson a former officer in the U.S. Air Force, will remain at the helm for the foreseeable future, officials said.
Palmisano, who heads the search committee, said the AMA has hired Russell Reynolds Associates, a Washington-based search firm, to oversee the national effort to replace Anderson. Palmisano will be joined on the search committee by six other AMA officials-four from the board, two from the house of delegates.
The deadline for nominations is Sept. 17, but no firm date has been set for naming a new chief executive, Palmisano said.
"We will move quickly," he said, "but we'll take as much time as needed to find the right candidate."
Meanwhile, the AMA last week hired a new general counsel. Jon Ekdahl, a longtime general counsel for Andersen Worldwide, replaces Ile.
Hired as the AMA's top lawyer in August 1998, Ile resigned on Dec. 31, 2000. He received a confidential severance package, according to Anderson's lawsuit. Ekdahl, 58, started work Aug. 12.