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Buzz: One man’s refusal to go the easy route

Published: Sun, October 25, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)

By Todd Franko

One year later, Buzz Pishkur still has his hands on the ball that is Forum Health.

A resignation means he’s not the guy bringing it down court, but he still knows best how the bounces will ultimately impact the Valley.

A Forum without Northside Medical Center is a win for its creditors waiting for some of their money to be paid back. They see the best Forum as one with Northside either sold or closed.

The Valley without Northside is a loss for us all.

Buzz fought against that future.

Pishkur took over Forum Health last October — a remarkable hiring from the standpoint of Buzz and the Forum board of directors.

He was thriving in his career as CEO of a successful utility company — a business course he charted. He had no medical background except for his role as a Forum board member, where he saw experts come in and mismanage what he viewed as a local treasure.

Pishkur wanted to be Forum’s CEO only if the recruiting firm charged with the search believed he was the best candidate for the board to hire.

He got the firm’s nod, and he stepped up.

Our A1 story on Buzz’s hiring last year had him out in front of the hospital flipping a basketball in his hands, bridging another of his passions — sports and, more specifically, basketball officiating.

Becoming a sports official takes a special leap. The striped black-and- white shirts are essentially cross-haired targets.

A ref’s paramount concern is respect for the players in the competition.

But it’s a secondary concern after something more altruistic: respect for the game — a tradition forged by players who came before and a future still to be shaped by those yet to come.

It plays out in life, too. Buzz was extremely mindful of the legacy of the Forum properties over the past century and what to hand to the next generation.

But before Buzz could mark a first anniversary, his clock ran out.

The creditors leveraged him out by baiting him with closure of the place that would be his biggest win — Northside.

Buzz did not attend the announcement of his resignation three weeks ago. News of his departure was delivered by a public-relations official. That was very unBuzz-like.

This week, Buzz emerged and showed the grace and poise that made him the right guy to give the ball to one year ago — and why he’s still the right guy to finish what he started.

Others saw that, too.

In his short time, he was able to gain cost-saving concessions from all nine unions in the organization that are projected to save $39.1 million over three years.

The employee pension plan was moved to the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which when accepted, will save an additional $64 million over the same three years.

The company’s debt was reduced from $179 million to $139 million, and there is $55 million in a debt-reserve fund.

And Buzz was able to lay out a plan that would return the health system to Boardman — patching an abandonment created by “health-care professionals.”

It was a hard path and one that seemed to be getting more personal despite the achievements.

The registered-nurses union at Forum’s Trumbull Memorial Hospital issued a no-confidence measure against Buzz in the spring.

And in the summer, the creditors announced they had lost confidence in his leadership and wanted to install a person with health-care experience (see Boardman note above).

But those charges are merely a manipulation of each group’s reality.

The TMH community wants separation from Northside, and in its pursuits is suffering from memory loss. Barely a decade ago, TMH was the struggling facility needing a lifeline from the successful organization that included Northside.

And the creditors are not looking to run a medical group. They merely want to run to the bank with whatever money they can get for Forum. Their Thursday announcement of a Nov. 30 separation deadline enacts that wish.

So throwing Buzz under the bus was an easy get.

But there was Buzz on Thursday looking like a winner yet again.

He walked away from a $9,000-per-week deal with the creditors who wanted him to act as a Forum consultant. That’s boardroom speak for doing nothing and keeping quiet. That deal would have lasted well into next spring — and six figures of income.

I’ve met a lot of credible and ethical people in my life.

They are folks who, if Bill Gates dropped a nickel on the floor in front of them, would give it back to him because it was his. If they had the $9,000 deal, they could have justified taking it — explaining what they went through, and “that’s how the business works” and the intellectual property they left on the table, blah, blah, blah.

I can count on one finger the people I know who would not have taken the deal.

And before Thursday, I would not have been able to count one.

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