Tartu University Hospital (TÜK) board chairman Priit Eelmäe, the subject of an expression of no-confidence on the part of a number of TÜK clinic directors on Friday, explained that the plan is to turn the job of hospital CEO into a fixed-term position. According to the current CEO, these changes are crucial.
In an interview with ERR on Friday, Eelmäe said that he saw no reason why he should step down from his position as CEO.
"The expression of no confidence that was submitted came unexpectedly, and whether it is justified is up for everyone to decide on their own," he said. "What I came to the hospital to do was to make the hospital more attractive to staff, ensure that people have reasonable workloads, and ensure that management is made reasonable."
The CEO believes that clinic directors' reaction to the plan he introduced would have been the same regardless of when he would have introduced it.
In a press release issued Friday, Eelmäe explained that his main goal since taking over as CEO of TÜK in 2018 has been working out a new management and career model for the hospital system. These changes are aimed at ensuring the best possible treatment outcomes with a clearer and more transparent management and career model, so that directors would maintain strong ties to their field of work.
"This means that our goal is to provide people with a clearer picture of what opportunities exist for building a career in their field, and what competence requirements exist for positions, thus supporting doctors' aspirations and providing clear goals for the planning of one's professional life," he said regarding the reasoning behind the planned changes. "The hospital's new management and career model more clearly describes various career levels and sets out a path for developing from one competence level to the next. I'm confirming that these changes are critical."
According to Eelmäe, he has spent a little over a year working together with clinic directors, the University of Tartu and key individuals from the healthcare system to come up with a career model suitable and worthy of the hospital.
Responding to comments made by TÜK supervisory board chairman and Tartu Mayor Urmas Klaas (Reform) according to which he had started implementing these changes prematurely, Eelmäe said that the supervisory board was aware of the fact that the deadline for implementing the new career model is April 1, 2020. The details of the schedule, he added, were not clear to clinic directors.
The CEO also said that the implementation of the new management model has actually been postponed several times already, noting that the first goal had been April 1, 2019.
"I dare say today that all clinic directors heard for the first time and very precisely about such changes coming at one-on-one development evaluation meetings in February and March of 2019 already," he added.
Eelmäe: No one has been laid off
According to the CEO, nobody has received layoff notices. People have also been informed about the schedule for the reform at an informational meeting. "In short, the reform has been planned and prepared for approximately a year, and people have been informed of it at length," he said.
TÜK's new career model calls for the employment contracts of the directors of TÜK clinics to be made fixed-term. Eelmäe explained that current clinic directors have been offered permanent employment contracts for different positions.
"We have offered current clinic directors permanent employment contracts at the same capacity — the majority of our clinic directors work part time — and we have offered them part-time positions as senior doctors-teachers, which is logical, that if you work in the clinical field, then you should be a practicing doctor," he said. "Add to that a fixed-term leadership role with a separate contract, for which we will be announcing a competition. In other words, someone is a practicing doctor, who will also be given a leadership role. That is what we are talking about."
He added that the first plan will be to announce internal competitions prior to April 1 for fixed-term positions with leadership roles, to which current clinic directors are also welcome to apply.
In a brief interview with ETV news program Aktuaalne kaamera on Friday night, Eelmäe said that he is prepared to comprehensively discuss how to find a solution to the current situation.
He admitted that it is possible to postpone the plan's current deadlines, however transitioning to fixed-term director positions cannot be avoided.
Clinic directors express no confidence
Directors of 16 of TÜK's 18 clinics expressed no confidence in Eelmäe, calling for his departure as CEO in a joint statement signed on Friday condoning planned changes at the hospital.
University of Tartu Dean of Medicine Margus Lember, who was among those who signed the address, said that to the best of his knowledge, the hospital's supervisory board was neither aware of nor agreed to alleged planned layoffs of clinic directors.
Tartu University Hospital was founded by the Estonian state, the City of Tartu and the University of Tartu (TÜ). The hospital serves as a training base for the university's medical students.
Editor: Aili Vahtla