Supervisory board of Tartu University Hospital keeps Eelmäe in office

Supervisory board of Tartu University Hospital.
Supervisory board of Tartu University Hospital. Source: Madis Hindre/ERR

The supervisory board of Tartu University Hospital (TÜK) decided to continue cooperation with Chairman of the Management Board on Monday, as it believes the current management crisis at the hospital is solvable.

Last Friday, 16 heads of clinics at the TÜK expressed a lack of confidence in Priit Eelmäe after he announced a decision to lay off all clinic directors earlier last week.

Doctors in charge of the hospital's various clinics, all of whom also work as professors at the University of Tartu medical faculty, accuse Eelmäe of trying to abolish the positions of clinic heads.

The Tartu University Hospital is founded by the Estonian state, the city of Tartu and the University of Tartu. The hospital serves as a training base for the university's medical students.

On Monday, the mayor of Tartu, chairman of the supervisory board Urmas Klaas said the supervisory board considers the management of the crisis regrettable and is convinced that it can be resolved in collaboration with all the parties involved, spokespeople for the hospital said.

The supervisory board also decided that the new career model and structural reform will be implemented at the hospital by December 31 this year. TÜK's new career model calls for the employment contracts of the directors of TÜK clinics to be made fixed-term. 

Management related changes at the hospital will continue and all the open-ended contracts of heads of units of the hospital will be made fixed-term contracts with December 31, 2020 as the final date. The hospital's updated organization structure and its implementation plan will be submitted to the supervisory board by September 1 at the latest.

To fulfill these tasks and include employees of the hospital, the chairman of the management board will present the list of members of the work group, its action plan and budget to the supervisory board on January 31. Based on that, the management board will annul the notice forwarded to the heads of clinics on January 8.

"Considering the common ground as regards to objectives and the readiness of the chairman of the management board for more inclusive leadership and open discussion, we find that the management crisis is solvable by means of collaboration," Klaas said.

Eelmäe said: "I very much regret that tensions reached this point and I offer my apologies for it. Restoring peace at work is paramount." Adding he is prepared for comprehensive cooperation with the heads of all clinics and medical services as well as other employees of the hospital.

The management board presented to the supervisory board its proposals when it comes to next steps, describing hearing out and in-depth inclusion of all the parties directly affected by the change as a priority among the steps to be taken next.

Andres Kotsar, the hospital's chief medical officer, said that the feedback received in recent days confirms that the changes will help to maintain the hospital's status as an attractive employer in the eyes of next generations of professionals also in the future.

"We also cannot overlook the general backdrop in the field of healthcare, which expects changes at the hospital," he said.

Eelmäe said: "Changes are a long-term process and both I and my team have learned a valuable lesson." He said hundreds of people have expressed opinions supporting the need for change at the hospital.

"I fully understand people's difficult feelings, and the board will be open in the flexible and inclusive planning of next steps. As manager, I take feedback about my management style very seriously and will focus on improving inter-personal relationships and restoring mutual understanding," Eelmäe said.

Last week the 16 clinic head wrote, signed, and sent a letter to the supervisory board. It read: "Despite promises of inclusive management and cooperation with the university, steps to implement the management career model have not been discussed with us or the hospital's partners at the university (medical training department, clinical medicine institute).

"Priit Eelmäe's recent actions and behavior have abolished all manner of trust between the management and unit managers – heads of clinics, medical services directors. Over the past year and a half, this distrust has only deepened despite our best efforts."

The 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 nor agreed to the layoffs.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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