INVESTIGATIVE

Good Samaritan Hospital Chief Medical Officer Resigning after Nursing Officer Exit

The prominent South Bay hospital is losing two high-level executives. The departures come after several NBC Bay Area investigations exposing systemic violations by leadership that federal regulators said put patients in harms way. An internal memo indicates the departures were "voluntary."

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After 18 months on the job, Good Samaritan Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Klaus Thaler will be stepping down from his position in October. The pending departure comes after the Investigative Unit also confirmed another executive - Associate Chief Nursing Officer Damian Gulbransen - recently left her position at Good Sam after 11 months.

In a statement to NBC Bay Area Wednesday, a hospital spokesperson said Good Samaritan Hospital does not discuss personnel issues but “the intensity of the pandemic during the past year and a half has made it common for healthcare professionals to re-evaluate their life priorities, choosing to spend more time with their loved ones or furthering their careers.”

NBC Bay Area obtained an internal hospital memo sent out Wednesday showing Good Sam's CEO Tomi Ryba told providers "the departures were entirely voluntary as well as normal in the course of operations for any large hospital."

The two departures come shortly after a series of investigative reports by NBC Bay Area exposing severe staffing shortages, patient care problems and allegations of blatant lack of care. Nurses initially came forward earlier in the year protesting in front of the hospital; then patients and family members contacted NBC Bay Area sharing their experiences at Good Sam that they described as "inhumane" and "horrific."

In June, the Investigative Unit first reported on the concerns. The issues ranged from a broken elevator delaying a patient’s emergency care to flies in the facility’s intensive care unit. One state inspection report noted flies and maggots inside a patient’s nose and failure by staff to report the insects.

In July, regulators with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) blasted Good Sam’s upper management team saying systemic and re-occurring failures by hospital leadership put patients in harms way repeatedly. Federal regulators hit Good Samaritan Hospital with a “notice of termination,” which places the facility’s Medicare contract in jeopardy. The hospital is still working with CMS to correct the violations.

Neither Good Samaritan Hospital or CMS have publicly released the report but the 65-page report was leaked to NBC Bay Area by a high-level hospital source. The report also includes the hospital's plan of correction.

View the 65-page CMS "Notice of Termination" here

In August, the Investigative Unit broke the story of Good Samaritan Hospital and its sister facility Regional Medical Center mishandling and even losing several patient bodies. NBC Bay Area spoke to a woman whose mother's body, she said, was stacked under another large body for days at the hospital and a young mother who accuses Good Samaritan Hospital of "throwing away" her baby's remains.

In a statement, the hospital acknowledged the problem calling it rare; it also apologized to the families affected.

Then in September, the Investigative Unit obtained an internal hospital memo dated September 20 where Good Sam’s CEO Tomi Ryba confirmed Dr. Thaler’s pending resignation. She wrote he will be joining his family on the East Coast.

“Klaus came to us 18 months ago, taking over a key role at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she wrote. “His leadership during the pandemic effectively rewrote the book for Good Samaritan Hospital on how we care for COVID-19 patients.”

On a call Wednesday, Dr. Klaus told NBC Bay Area he had no comment. Good Sam’s former associate chief nursing officer, Damian Gulbransen, never responded to our requests for comment.

The hospital recently embarked on a public relations campaign across the Bay Area. Over the weekend it took out a full-page newspaper ad to release an open letter to the community. In the letter, the hospital said it is expanding safeguards, adding more nurses, recruiting more doctors and investing millions on new equipment and patient care supplies.

Ryba also touted her transparency and ability to talk about tough challenges in several pre-produced videos posted on social media.

After months of repeated requests for an interview, Ryba nor anyone from Good Samaritan Hospital or its parent company, HCA Healthcare, has ever agreed to an interview with NBC Bay Area.

Ryba told staff in the internal memo she would be providing an update on Dr. Thaler’s replacement “in the coming days.”

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Candice Nguyen is an investigative reporter with NBC Bay Area. To contact her about this story or others, e-mail candice.nguyen@nbcuni.com.

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