Tenet Healthcare Corp. plans to name HHS' Deputy General Counsel E. Peter Urbanowicz as its general counsel, Modern Healthcare 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 November.
Sulzbach, a 20-year veteran of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Tenet and its predecessor company, oversaw the company's legal strategy during a recent series of 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 unnecessary surgeries performed at Redding.
Urbanowicz, who was appointed to his current position in November 2001, also had been mentioned as a possible successor to former CMS Administrator Tom Scully. 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 HHS' inspector general's office this 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 & Gray. "I think he represents the cool hand at the tiller that Tenet needs." Tenet owns or operates 102 hospitals.
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 officials would not confirm Urbano-wicz's appointment.
In a separate development, Tenet reached a labor agreement with the California Nurses Association, ending months of wrangling over benefits and a strike in at least one hospital.