The Getaway

What the Paul Levy saga says about the city’s most powerful institutions.

FORGET THE "CLOSE PERSONAL FRIEND." If we cared that much about “inappropriate relationships” between powerful men and young subordinates, Bill Clinton wouldn’t continue to be such a big draw.

Forget the humiliated wife, a stroke survivor in late middle age. If we cared that much about narcissistic husbands dumping ailing spouses, Newt Gingrich’s name wouldn’t be uttered in the same breath as “prospective presidential candidate.”

No, what is so absorbing about the Paul Levy story is less what it says about one preening hospital executive’s peculiar idea of workplace propriety than what it says about us, about Boston, where a self-aggrandizing media darling sold himself as the savior of struggling local institutions while ducking any scrutiny for conduct decidedly unbecoming a messiah.

Levy, of course, is the president and chief executive officer of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the man who received a public wrist slap for installing his “close personal friend,” a former student decades his junior, in jobs so vital to BIDMC that they did not exist until she arrived and vanished when she departed. For years, some of the hospital’s board members had known about Farzana Mohamed, the woman in question, whom Levy has known since she was an MIT undergraduate and he was her academic adviser. Earlier this year, the board fined him $50,000 for a “major lapse in judgment” that, by my count, lasted more than a decade.

 The particulars of Levy’s extracurricular activities are of even less interest to most of us than his musings on youth soccer or sunsets that he posts with numbing frequency alongside his views about healthcare on a blog he calls, with characteristic humility, Running a Hospital. But his heedlessness — and his supervisors’ tolerance of it — provides a window into how power is exercised in the incestuous upper reaches of this still-parochial city’s most prominent institutions. In the clubby confines of BIDMC’s executive offices, Levy’s misconduct would have been winked at indefinitely had an anonymous complaint not thrust it into public view.

Levy oversaw the cleanup of Boston Harbor when he was at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, and then successfully resuscitated BIDMC, what had been a failing hospital. These accomplishments earned him a handsome salary and some well-deserved acclaim, but they also bought him a license to stash a “close personal friend” on the hospital payroll and to use his blog to regularly impugn the integrity of competitors and union organizers. They also encouraged him to engage in an orgy of self-absorption that he has managed to market as “transparency” to a city full of smitten scribes.

  • Ellen

    Bravo to Eileen Macnamara for her fantastic article about
    Paul Levy. I had a soul searing experience in 2005 with him at BIDMC and I shall never forget it. You can read about it on my blog http://www.elleninmedicaland.blogspot.com. It is a chapter of my book, Ellen In Medicaland and it is called Medical Care From Hell. You can also listen to radio and tv shows about this experience at http://www.tvyourhealthcare.org.

  • Ben

    Where was Helen Drinan when the BI needed her. Mrs. Drinan filed a complaint to the Caritas Christi trustees when a ceo misbehaved. Like the BI,Caritas Christi is a religious based hospital. At the BI,Levy drove out a beloved rabbi who sat on the ethics commission.

  • Pilar

    This article is dead on. It does not matter what Mr Levy did, individually. What is concerniong, deeply concerning, is that powerful institutions in Boston not only tolerate infringements of law and policy but, in addition, promote those who are responsible. Philantropists should reserve their donations for institutions that promote abiding by the law!

  • Shawna

    Tip of the iceberg, Eileen, tip of the iceberg. The network protects criminals, too.