ENGINEERING CONTAGION: UPMC, CORONA-THRAX AND “THE DARKEST WINTER” | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

ENGINEERING CONTAGION: UPMC, CORONA-THRAX AND “THE DARKEST WINTER”

Soon after having been fired from his post as secretary of the treasury in December 2002, after a policy clash with the president, Paul O’Neill became a trustee of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Despite having just worked under and clashed with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, it wasn’t until O’Neill began answering to UPMC CEO Jeffrey Romoff as a member of the Center’s board that he chose to publicly denounce a superior as “evil.”

“He wants to destroy competition. He wants to be the only game in town,” O’Neill would later state of Romoff, adding that “after 18 months I quit [the UPMC board] in disgust” due to Romoff’s “absolute control” over the board’s actions. O’Neill subsequently noted that UPMC “board members who have wealth of hundreds of millions of dollars are not willing to take this guy on.” When pressed by a local reporter, O’Neill further elaborated that he had been told by other board members that they were “afraid” of Romoff because Romoff might “harm them in some way.”

O’Neill’s criticisms of Romoff are hardly an outlier, as local community activists and even a state attorney generalhave noted that UPMC’s board lets Romoff do as he pleases. Jeffrey Romoff has ruled UPMC with an iron fist since his predecessor, Thomas Detre, had a heart attack in 1992. As a result of the Center’s massive wealth accumulation, at first spurred by his magic touch for receiving National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants, Detre was able to use the financial power afforded to him to consolidate control over enough of the University of Pittsburgh to create his “own personal fiefdom,” which is now the stand-alone corporation known as UPMC.

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