Tenet Healthcare Corp., Santa Barbara, Calif., will name HHS Deputy General Counsel E. Peter Urbanowicz as its general counsel, Modern Healthcare has learned. Washington sources said they expected Urbanowicz, 39, to be hired by Dec. 31 to replace Christi Sulzbach, the company's former chief corporate officer, compliance officer and general counsel, who stepped down under pressure in September. Sulzbach, a 20-year veteran of Tenet and its predecessor company, oversaw the company's legal strategy during a recent series of embarrassing and costly fraud settlements and investigations at Redding (Calif.) Medical Center and Alvarado Hospital Medical Center, San Diego, as well as a national investigation into its alleged misuse of outlier payments. In August, Tenet paid $54 million to settle civil fraud lawsuits for its alleged role in the unnecessary surgeries performed at Redding. Tenet officials refused to confirm the information.
Urbanowicz, who was appointed to his current position in November 2001, has been mentioned as a possible successor to replace departed CMS Administrator Tom Scully, who announced his hiring by Washington law firm Alston & Bird. At HHS, Urbanowicz advised HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and Scully on Medicare and Medicaid issues and oversaw the work of the 400-attorney staff, reporting to HHS General Counsel Alex Azar II.
Urbanowicz is a "well-regarded, smart guy," said Paul Danello, a lawyer who left the HHS' inspector general's office his year. "I would think that he's certainly the right man for the job," said Danello, who is now with the Washington office of Ropes and Gray. "I think he represents the cool hand at the tiller that Tenet needs."
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, whose Senate Finance Committee is investigating Tenet, said through a spokesman, "Maybe a new lawyer at the top will give Tenet better counsel. Tenet says it's changing, but I'm skeptical." Tenet owns or operates 102 hospitals. -- by Mark Taylor, Vince Galloro and Jeff Tieman