In defense of Jeffrey Romoff

The UPMC CEO should be heralded for helping to reinvent Pittsburgh

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Almost daily, a headline, article, tweet or blog post attempts to publicly shame Jeffrey Romoff, criticize his salary and belittle the health care empire that he and Dr. Thomas Detre built. I may be in the minority, but I do not believe Mr. Romoff deserves such a public shaming, as he has nothing to be ashamed about.

What Mr. Romoff, whom I have never met, has accomplished in the years of his leadership at UPMC is the construction of a world-class health care system the likes of which Pennsylvania — let alone Pittsburgh — has never known.

As someone who grew up in the Pittsburgh area, I personally witnessed the transformation of health care in the region, which was due almost single-handedly to the growth of UPMC.

In the health care industry, UPMC stands almost alone as capable of creating value and profits that are reinvested in the system to allow it to soar to even higher heights. Such ability not only provides unrivaled health care, it creates jobs for tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians. For this achievement, UPMC should be lauded; instead, it is condemned and targeted for looting by unions and governments. Why this reaction?

It arises solely because people consider being profitable in the provision of health care sacrilegious. As if transgressing biblical laws against usury, UPMC broke the unwritten law of being successful in what has been considered exclusively the province of altruism. If people are not sacrificing themselves to provide health care, the conventional wisdom goes, they must be doing something evil.

In fact, it is the exact opposite.

Health care is no different than any other industry. In fact, because of its vital role, health care should be an industry in which success should be most praiseworthy, given that financial viability is essential for continued operations and the opportunity to purchase health care services. As such, for UPMC to have billions in revenue and hundreds of millions in profits is something that should celebrated, not derided.

Mr. Romoff’s salary, set by UPMC’s board, should not be an object of envy or an indictment of his character. It should be viewed as a just reward for a job well done, and it is dwarfed by the revenues earned with him at UPMC’s helm. In fact, since Mr. Romoff leads what then-city councilman and now- Mayor Bill Peduto labeled the new steel mills of Pittsburgh, which feed the region’s engine of productivity, he should be viewed in the same spirit as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick who, not coincidently, have themselves unfortunately become objects of scorn.

There is a story about Dr. Detre, the original architect of UPMC, that I think is emblematic of how UPMC should be viewed. As he was being ridiculed for leaving a prestigious academic medical center to come to Pittsburgh, he was asked if planes even landed in Pittsburgh, which at the time, was in its doldrums. Today, as Dr. Detre prophetically predicted, planes do indeed land here — and they carry passengers from far and wide seeking care at one of the best medical centers in the world (not to mention the scientists and physicians who travel from around the globe to work at such a storied center).

Would people prefer that Mr. Romoff be an incompetent leader earning a smaller salary, unable to uncover opportunities to provide profitable services? Or a leader, such as he is, who earns profit by providing services that benefit thousands of patients, physicians, nurses, allied health care workers and scientists?

Thank you, Mr. Romoff, for instilling an ethos of excellence, innovation, achievement and striving that I consider myself so lucky to be a part of.

Amesh A. Adalja, a native of Butler, is a physician board-certified in infectious disease, critical care medicine, emergency medicine, and internal medicine. He is a clinical assistant professor at UPMC.

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