Thursday, March 5, 2009

Looking Back....Paul Kramer at Children's Hospital of Illinois

Paul Kramer, Executive Director of Children's Hosptial of Illinois (CHOI), obstructed care of my Haitian Hearts patients.

Haitian Hearts started as a small group of friends of mine that sat around my kitchen table and planned ways to raise money for CHOI to help pay for the Haitian kids we brought to Peoria for heart surgery. We had no overhead and all funds we raised went directly to CHOI. We paid for the Haitian kids passports, visas, airline tickets, food, medications, and on occasion, we even paid for surgery from our back pocket.

As the years went by we raised over $1.1 million that went to OSF-CHOI. The doctors at OSF never charged Haitian Hearts for their services.

During a meeting I had with Paul in his office in 2000, Paul told me that “Haitian Hearts is becoming too competitive for CHOI.” He meant that we were raising so much money in the Peoria community that was earmarked Haitian kids surgery at CHOI, he was worried that CHOI was being left out for purposes other than Haitian Hearts. Paul and other OSF administrators wanted money donated to CHOI to go for bricks and cement for the new Children's Hospital that they were planning at OSF. (That $250 million project is now underway.) I think he was nervous that people were contributing to CHOI-Haitian Hearts and other administrators were breathing down his neck. I think that OSF thought they needed to get control of Haitian Hearts.

Caterpillar Foundation was donating $10,000 per year to CHOI for Haitian Hearts. We noticed that on April 1, 2001, Caterpillar only donated $500 to Haitian Hearts. Where had the other $9,500 gone?

When CHOI hired Linda Arnold as director of CHOI Foundation in the late 90's she brought me a letter to sign that said that Haitian Hearts had donated $300,000 to CHOI. (I knew we had donated at least $600,000 to CHOI over the years. ) I told Linda that her amount was wrong, so she changed it to $400,000. I refused to sign that letter as well, telling her the amount was at least $600,000. She left the room and changed the letter yet again to $600,000. I signed this letter. My faith in the good faith of CHOI Foundation was falling quickly. The best I could say, was that their “book keeping” was bad.

Haitian Hearts never received itemized bills for our Haitian kids. CHOI just told us what they “cost”. So to check this out, an OSF nurse reviewed 6 charts of Haitian kids bills, and found that we had been charged $40,000 too much. (Example: Heart valves that were donated by the companies that make them for the Haitian surgeries, were charged to the kids.) When we showed Paul Kramer the errors, he did give Haitian Hearts credit for these OSF mistakes. I wondered how many more mistakes there were that we would never know about. This was so important to know, because it could mean that we were leaving kids in Haiti because of poor bookkeeping at OSF.

I did ask for itemized bills with a written request in 2002, but never received the bills. Hospital spokesman Chris Lofgren played this down in the Journal Star.

OSF also purchased a $21,000 sonogram probe with Haitian Heats money by mistake, and apparently returned the money to the Haitian Hearts account within CHOI.

A physician donated overtime hours he had worked to CHOI-Haitian Hearts. His donations over the years did not show up on the computer sheet at OSF Foundation as going towards surgery for Haitian kids. I tried to track down his money for 2 years at OSF, and was unable to. He was afraid to look for it himself for fear of repurcussions against him by OSF. He also would not speak to a Journal Star reporter over where he thought his donations ended up.

After I was fired on December 18, 2001 Paul Kramer constructed a letter to the financial supporters of CHOI. However, Paul would not sign the letter. Also, there was not a date on the letter. It was signed by the wife of one of the cardiologists who took care of Haitian kids over the years. The letter stated, that despite my “leaving” OSF, "the future of the Haitian Hearts program was bright and that the commitment of the Sisters and much of the central Illinois community is strong. This program will continue.”

The idea, of course, was that just because I was gone, don’t stop donating to CHOI. I was pretty sure that OSF was going to stop their support of Haitian kids coming to OSF, I just didn’t know when. Paul Kramer was too smart to sign the letter, probably because he knew what the fate of Haitian Hearts at CHOI was going to be also. (Sources close to Steffen within the medical center had told me, prior to my firing, that Steffen was going to cut OSF’s support of Haitian Hearts.)

On January 3,2002 OSF spokesperson Chris Lofgren confidently stated in the Peoria Journal Star, “John’s leaving (St. Francis) really doesn’t change Haitian Hearts at all. I was quoted as saying, “Haitian Hearts was held over my head by Keith Steffen. The implication was, Haitian Hearts would survive if I survived (at St. Francis). ”

During the Spring, 2002, Haitian Hearts under the guidance of Jim Holmes, a Haitian Hearts supporter, approached CHOI and Paul Kramer and told them we wanted to build a house in East Peoria, sell the house, and give what we made on the house (Haitian House) to CHOI for Haitian children’s surgeries. Paul did all he could to talk Jim Holmes out of this. Jim did it anyway and with the help of the central Illinois community, was able to sell the house for $177,000 at the end of 2002.

After the house sold, Mr. Kramer talked to Jim and begged him for this money. Mr. Kramer was quite insistent on getting this money from the project he discouraged from the beginning. Jim told him that the check would be sent when I gave the ok. Mr. Kramer told Jim, “Haitian Hearts does not exist and it wasn’t important for me to give the “OK”. (Haitian Hearts authorized that this money go to CHOI in early December, 2002.)

Haitian Hearts worst fears were realized when OSF pulled all financial support for the Haitian kids. This occurred on July 12, 2002. Chris Lofrgen’s statements to the media had been misleading in January and the letter written by Paul Kramer had misled the public. (Lofgren told me that he was intimately involved in the discussions with administration regarding my termination, so I don’t think the July news was a surprise to Lofgren either.)

Then things got serious.

Mr. Kramer spoke with the pediatric cardiology office and asked them not to schedule a cardiac catheterization on one of my Haitian girls in Peoria. The nurses in the office told me this. Thus, this delayed her diagnostic work up and surgery. I could tell the nurses felt bad about this.

I took a nun with me to Mr. Kramer's office and confronted him about his behavior. He didn't deny that he did this but I could tell he was not happy about being caught.

I called the Pediatric Resource Center at OSF and made a formal report regarding negligent behavior of the Executive Director of Children's Hospital of Illinois, Mr. Kramer, towards Children's Hospital patient needing heart surgery. Immediately, Mr. Kramer's ruling was overturned, and the Haitian girl was put on the schedule that afternoon.

In early August, 2002, another Haitian Hearts patient of mine, 7 month old Samuel suffered an arrest in his host family's home in Roanoke, Illinois. The host family and I thought that Samuel's surgery has been delayed inappropriately. We spoke with Mr. Kramer about this also. He denied, as usual, and Samuel's American mother told Mr. Kramer that she did not believe him.

In the fall, 2002, a Rotary Club North (RCN) official, Lyn Banta, called me one afternoon. He told me that Linda Arnold at OSF Foundation had just called him and demanded RCN turn over any funds they had collected for Haitian Hearts for transportation, food, medication, for the Haitian kids. This amounted to $12,500. This fund was designed for people like the small group of us who sat around my kitchen table and paid for these expenses out of our pockets. Now, OSF-CHOI Foundation was attempting to get these funds. Paul Kramer told a Haitian Hearts supporter that he had asked Arnold to make this call to Mr. Banta. Paul was part of the original conversations with Lyn Banta when this independent fund was started by RCN, and Paul knew that money was not to go inside of CHOI for CHOI’s expenses. Mr. Banta refused to turn over the funds to Arnold, even though she was “adamant” that he give them up. Mr. Banta told me that day, “John, you would never have seen these funds, if I had given them to CHOI- Foundation. ”

So, at the end of 2002, Haitian Hearts had raised and donated $445,000 to CHOI for their work with the Haitian kids. This totalled at least $1.1 million raised by Haitian hearts in 7 years, all of it going to CHOI. Multiple attempts were made to discourage us from raising funds for these kids by Mr. Kramer, and Arnold had tried to tap into Haitian Hearts funds that were not to go to CHOI. And true to what I was told, OSF-Administration cut any funding for Haitian Hearts in July, 2002 which was opposite to what OSF was telling the media in January. (No one in Haitian Hearts really believed what OSF said to the media.)

Then, to top off the year, Paul Kramer called the American Consulate in Port-au-Prince, Haiti after he received the Haitian House check in December, and asked the Consulate not to grant any more visas for my kids who needed to travel to OSF-CHOI for surgery. When the Consulate officials were telling me this in Haiti, a young lady, Bisolo, who was a Consulate official, began to hyperventilate and had to sit down. She knew what OSF-CHOI’s demand would mean for the Haitian kids in Haiti that would now not be able to leave Haiti…..

In 2003, as the end of summer came, Haitian Hearts had received no money from Children's Hospital of Illinois. We had become a non-profit in October, 2002. CHOI was keeping donations that was meant for Haitian Hearts. We took this to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office. Their point man told me that OSF had "clearly done Haitian Hearts wrong" (not exact quote, but very close.)

And in the last few years Mr. Kramer has sat on OSF's International Committee that has rejected Jackson Jean-Baptiste and Maxime Petion. Both have died after they have not been allowed to return to OSF for repeat heart surgery.

During the last 15 years, OSF-CHOI has lost a fair number of pediatric specialists. They have left town. It is very sad because they were excellent clinicians. Most people in central Illinois don't even know what we have lost for our children.

One of the physicians that left Peoria told me that Paul Kramer disappointed the most. I would agree.

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