The board of Broward Health rejected all four finalists for the chief executive officer’s job Wednesday and voted to give it to their current interim CEO, Beverly Capasso, who is under indictment.
Capasso, who earned $650,000 a year as interim CEO, faces criminal charges along with four other current or former Broward Health leaders over alleged violations of Florida’s open-meetings law in the firing of a previous interim CEO. But board members said she has done an excellent job restoring stability to the organization, with several strong hires in executive positions, and that none of the four finalists turned out to be the stellar candidate with whom they had hoped to fill the job.
At the meeting, none of them mentioned the indictments, focusing instead on Capasso’s efficiency in beefing up the system’s managerial ranks, its improved finances and the apparent end of the crises that had plagued it.
“I think she’s done an amazing job and has an amazing team,” said board member Steven Wellins.
The job of leading the five-hospital, taxpayer-supported system came open more than two years ago, when its last permanent CEO killed himself with a bullet to the chest. Since then, the system has been run by a series of interim leaders, as the board, which is appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, lurched from one hiring process to another, creating instability that affected everything from employee morale to the system’s bond rating.
The vote was 4 to 1 to give the job to Capasso, with board chairman Rocky Rodriguez dissenting from an action that he said would “corrupt the process” of hiring a new leader.
Nancy Gregoire, the newest board member, made the motion to offer Capasso the job, saying she would hold the position until the expiration of a federal oversight agreement, expected some time late in 2020. By then, she and other board members said, they hope Broward Health will have a strong enough national reputation to attract higher-quality CEO candidates.
Gregoire said in an interview that the indictment was a concern, but that the charges were only second-degree misdemeanors and that Capasso should be considered innocent until proven guilty.
“Certainly it bothers me,” she said. “However, I really believe that the four candidates we had to review were not the best thing for Broward Health right now. I’d hate to make a mistake and make matters worse.”
Several board members pointed to the mediocre scores the four finalists received from executives of Broward Health’s hospitals, who had met with the finalists. Their scores ranged from 1.7 to 2.9 on a 5-point scale.
Capasso, a registered nurse, rose through the ranks to become a hospital executive, eventually becoming chief executive of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
The job description distributed by Broward Health says the CEO position requires a master’s degrees. Capasso has one in health administration, but it’s from a defunct mail and online institution called Kennedy-Western University that federal investigators identified as a diploma mill, an institution that confers degrees for little or no academic work.
Former Broward Health board member Joseph Cobo denounced the decision to hire her. There’s talk that the whole process was a “sham,” he said, and that the plan was always to give Capasso the job.
“I have never, ever, in the 40 years I’ve been around this place, seen a staff more scared from the retaliation that has been occurring,” he said. “You need a change. Yes, there are some very good people in this organization. But a lot of people have been hurt.”
Capasso, a former Broward Health board member who lives in Parkland, was indicted along with Rodriguez, board member Christopher Ure, former board member Linda Robison and general counsel Lynn Barrett for allegedly violating the state’s open-meetings law in the secretive manner in which they handled the investigation and firing of previous interim CEO Pauline Grant. All have denied wrongdoing. The cases are pending.
The firing of Grant, one of the county’s highest-ranking black officials, gave a racial tinge to the debate over the CEO job, with many black leaders denouncing the move. But at the meeting Wednesday, five black clergymen, some of whom had criticized the board in the past, spoke in favor of giving the job to Capasso.
“From my understanding of talking with different individuals and having real heart-to-heart conversations, I think the current interim CEO and the team that she’s put together is taking the ship in the right direction,” said Pastor Allen B. Jackson, of Ark Church of Sunrise. “I think they are doing a great job bringing the ship through the storm and taking the ship where it needs to go.”
In explaining his opposition, board chairman Rodriguez said he didn’t believe in springing something at the 11th hour and that there had been an explicit and public understanding that Capasso would serve only on a temporary basis.
“We made a promise to this community that this was not going to happen,” Rodriguez said.
“But we’ve heard from the community,” Gregoire said.
“Well, they’re part of the community,” Rodriguez responded. “With all due respect, they’re a huge part of the community, but there’s other people in the community that are not here.”
Capasso was not present at the meeting, which was a special meeting called just to discuss the CEO issue. But she was in attendance at the subsequent regular meeting, where she said she would accept.
“I’m humbled and honored to accept the terms of the contract,” she told the board. “We have stabilized Broward Health. We will continue to stabilize Broward Health for our patients, our community and the 8,000 employees of Broward Health.”