In an unexpected move, William G. Gonzalez, director of the deficit-plagued UCI Medical Center in Orange, resigned Thursday.
Gonzalez said the resignation, which takes effect today, was not forced. "It was a mutual decision between me and (UC Irvine) Chancellor (Jack) Peltason," said Gonzalez. But he acknowledged that "the overwhelming, 24-hour-a-day problem" of the medical center's deficit contributed to his decision. "I finally decided that, all things considered, it would be best if I stepped down."
Gonzalez, 44, will continue on the university's staff as a special assistant to Peltason. The new acting director of the medical center will be Leon Schwartz, the campus's vice chancellor for administrative and business services.
'A Mutual Decision'
Gonzalez said his plans for the future are uncertain, "but I would like very much to stay with the UC medical system, which of course includes other campuses."
While the UC board of regents has frequently criticized deficits at the medical center, Gonzalez, who has been the center's director for seven years, has never been singled out for blame. University officials have said the medical center, Orange County's largest provider of health care for poor people, is not being adequately reimbursed by federal, state and county governments.
"It (the resignation) was a mutual decision by Mr. Gonzalez and Chancellor Peltason," said Kathy Jones, assistant vice chancellor for communications. She added that Peltason was profuse in praise of Gonzalez's work as director "and the important contributions he's made."
Jones acknowledged, however, that the resignation "was quite sudden." She also said that the medical center's financial situation--a projected deficit of more than $9 million this fiscal year--figured in Gonzalez's decision to leave.
The medical center, in an effort to reduce its deficit, last week sent layoff notices to 104 staff workers, triggering angry outcries from employee groups.
Gonzalez said the layoffs became necessary because the budget deficit, after a January review, appeared likely to zoom as high as $12 million.
'Best Interests' of UCI
Gonzalez said he regretted having to make the layoffs, but he said there is no connection between the action and his decision to resign. Gonzalez also said his resignation has "nothing whatsoever" to do with the university's decision not to reappoint UCI Medical Dean Stanley van den Noort to another term.
Gonzalez said his decision involved personal considerations as well as "what would be in the best interests of the university." He said pressures of the deficit battle, coupled with the normal problems of running a vast, 2,300-employee medical center, have meant that he has had virtually no free time.
"Bill felt it was in his best interest and the best interests of the medical center to leave now," said Jones. She said the resignation came after a meeting between Gonzalez and Chancellor Peltason. She described the meeting as low-key and cordial; Gonzalez, in a separate interview, also said the meeting was friendly.
"The chancellor has been a good person to work with," said Gonzalez. "He came in here new (last summer) and inherited this problem that I've been struggling with for five years. I was very much impressed at how quickly he learned about hospital administration; he's a quick study, and he's worked to help me."
Gonzalez noted that he and Peltason, after an intensive study by a special committee headed by Schwartz, agreed that the best financial solution lies in extensive renovation and development at the medical center. Peltason presented the renovation proposal to the February meeting of the board of regents, who appeared sympathetic but took no action. Peltason estimated it will cost $30 million to renovate the aging medical center, which formerly was the county's general hospital.
Jones said it is not clear yet how long Schwartz will serve as the medical center's interim director.
Schwartz is a certified public accountant and former director of administration of the National Institutes of Health in Washington.
Gonzalez, who lives in Santa Ana, was assistant hospital director for the UC San Francisco Medical Center from 1966 to 1974. He left that post to become deputy director of the Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany, N.Y., a position he held until accepting the medical director's post at UCI Medical Center in 1978.