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Hospital story of exec’s departure called in question


In 2013 when Indian River Medical Center was facing a huge financial crisis with multi-million dollar budget shortfalls, the hospital administration announced that Chief Operating Officer Cindy Vanek was resigning in late August as part of what CEO Jeff Susi called “a mutual decision” to save money.

But recently released tax documents raise troubling questions about that version of events, offered at a time when the hospital – faced with a precipitous drop in operating funds – was laying off staff and eliminating dozens of positions.

Did Vanek actually leave the hospital payroll?  And did the hospital actually curb expenses with her departure?

Hospital communications director Lewis Clark, who was not working at the hospital when Vanek left, researched her departure and said in an email: “Ms. Vanek’s last day at work was in August (2013),” and “Ms. Vanek was terminated on Saturday, September 7th, 2013.”

But in 2013, according to the hospital tax documents, Vanek – known as Susi’s “right hand” –  received close to $568,000 in total compensation.  This amount was about $100,000 more than what she had been paid for the full year before.

Reached on a cell phone with a Palm Beach-area code, Vanek said that in 2013 she did not actually resign from the hospital – but remained on the payroll as Chief Operating Officer, contradicting what IRMC management told people about her resigning and relocating to Durham, NC, to work at Duke Nursing. 

“I was an independent consultant at Duke, but I continued to work full-time for Indian River Medical Center through 2013,” she said.

Full-time for the Indian River Medical Center for all of 2013?  “Yes, I continued to do work for the hospital and continued to be paid,” she said.

CEO Jeff Susi said that Vanek received “separation pay every two weeks after she left, which appeared to be a salary, but it wasn’t. It was exactly what she was entitled to, under the transition agreement – no more, no less,” he said. 

But Vanek’s explanation appears consistent with the hospital’s tax document submitted a month ago, despite what Susi said and what was widely believed about her resignation in 2013.

While Vanek is simply described in the tax forms as “Sr. VP, Chief Operating Officer” for 2013, with no mention of being “former,” CFO Dan Janicak, who took over Vanek’s COO responsibilities after she was said to have left, is described in the tax document as the “former CFO” and is listed as getting “a severance payment” when he left soon after Vanek.

Further, Janicak’s replacement as CFO, Greg Gardner, who began in September, 2013, is described in the document as working only a “partial year,” to reflect the months that he worked.

But there is no mention in the tax document of Vanek getting “separation pay” or a “severance payment” or working a “partial year.” And her compensation of almost $568,000, which includes the $100,000 raise, further supports her version of events – that she remained a full-time employee of the hospital – even though she was rarely at the hospital.

Susi said he couldn’t explain why the information on Vanek in the tax document was different from how the other administrators who worked a partial year were described, but he could say this: “She’s a wonderful person. In fact, she did do some work for us and provided some services for us after she left, and was generous enough not to even ask for more money.”

A call to Duke Nursing about Vanek’s work there resulted in this explanation from a payroll administrator:  “Our records show that Cynthia Wilkinson Vanek was not on the payroll anywhere at Duke in 2013, 2014 or 2015.”

Instead, said the administrator, Vanek was a volunteer on the Duke Nursing Advisory Board – an unpaid appointment, which gave her library privileges but no office or phone extension. 

Along with questions raised by the recently-released hospital tax document about Vanek’s 2013 compensation, it also raises questions about CEO Jeff Susi’s 2013 compensation.

In late summer 2013, as part of the planned belt-tightening, Susi announced that he was taking a 5.5 percent cut in salary. 

But the tax records show that Susi’s total compensation increased by over $45,000 from $966,277 in 2012 to $1,011,967 in 2013.

When asked how the increase included the 5.5 percent cut, Clark responded  that the 5.5 percent decrease was spread out over two years and was not reflected in the tax document.

As for other top hospital administrators’ compensation in 2013, all but two – Jan Donlan and Warren Fuller – appear to have received raises ranging from $12,000 to Susi’s $45,000 to Vanek’s $100,000 at a time when Indian River Medical Center was struggling with significant financial problems.