In this current environment of intemperate tweets and inflammatory speech from some of our elected leaders, including our President, it should not be surprising that a hospital manager thought it was OK to fire off a provocative email voicing his displeasure with the North Carolina health plan board responsible for the perceived outrage. 

“Burn in Hell you sorry SOBs.” 

When writing an email you have , you have two buttons; Send and Delete

Here is What Happened… the Juicy Part

Here is what happened: An Assistant Director of Finance for a prominent health system in North Carolina became really angry when he learned why his organization would no longer participate in the state’s health plan which covers teachers and other state employees — the board overseeing this program had proposed a new reimbursement formula that would cap payments to participating hospitals at 160 percent of Medicare for inpatient care and 230 percent of Medicare for outpatient services. The health system’s CEO’s had urged employees to contact their state legislators and advocate for the hospital’s position that the new rate plan were not acceptable. So the director sent an email to the chairman of the health plan.

I am not going to mention the name of the health system or the misguided employee.  My point here is not to point a finger of ridicule or cause further embarrassment to this junior executive or his organization but to point out the obvious: there are some real career management implications at work here.  Clearly the employee failed to understand the difference between “advocating” and blowing up a bridge, and maybe even his career.   

Two Sides to Every Story

It is important to note that the North Carolina rate plan mirrors some elements of President Trump’s effort to improve transparency.  The Chair of the state health plan is the State Treasurer, a Republican.  The State Treasurer is a statewide elected office. Other hospitals have expressed concern with the plan’s formulas.  The health system CEO claims the state has questioned their integrity, something he told WXII that he takes exception to.   

The Assistant Director’s email said:

“…your plan to cut payments to hospitals could possibly be the most moronic idea I have ever seen come out of state government and since you ‘retardicans’ have taken power, and that’s saying a lot…

Name Calling, Cheap Shots Will Alienate Half the People

“…poor people generally don’t vote for your party so you want them to die.”

Not surprising, his emphatic, email found its way to the light of day, specifically in the Winston-Salem Journal, a newspaper with a daily circulation of around 42,000.   And once the newspaper ran the story, the hospital manager who wrote the email then felt compelled (or was compelled) to issue an email statement to WXII, the NBC affiliated, explaining the rationale for his incendiary email:

“I was speaking my own political opinions in that email, independent of my role (with my employer), where I work as a front-line manager, not a high-ranking executive.  I was simply expressing my free-speech rights,” according Becker’s account of the WXII story.  WXII’s signal and cable coverage includes 255,000 in the Triad metropolitan area.

 In an industry where there are more executives of all stripes looking for work than there are jobs, one word immediately pops to mind: judgment.  Put another way, when you find yourself in a public relations hole of your own making, that you might want to stop digging. 

Free Speech Exists Up to a Point 

First, no one is suggesting that when you become an employee of a respected healthcare organization that you give up free-speech rights, although there are some obvious practical limitations.  When I stopped laughing after I read the Becker’s news summary, I began to conjure what this person must have been thinking (or not) at the moment he decided that sending this email was a good idea.

Here are three points to consider when you think about this situation:

  1. I hope he did not use his hospital email account.  Using a company email to express a point of view in an outlandish manner only adds insult to injury and could be career limiting.
  2. There are two important buttons for email: “send” and “delete.” When you are getting ready to send the email that questions the sexual history of an elected state official’s mother — which certainly seems to cross the line between advocating and insulting — using the delete button is probably the wiser choice.
  3. No one is bullet-proof, especially an Assistant Director of Finance.  Unless you are big name star, screwing up on Facebook or Twitter where people will pay little or no attention to what a lower level hospital financial manager says, but when your explicit language is the subject of a newspaper story and then airs on a TV news broadcast, eyebrows are raised, more than few thousand people will be exposed to your faux pas.  

Words, Emails Can Have Big Career Consequences

In a time of super-charged political rhetoric and heated disagreements it is paramount to remember that words — emails — have real consequences when it comes to your future and your image within an industry.  Making an accounting mistake will fade into the time of history but when your mistake is really bad judgment, well…   People screw up all the time and go on to have successful careers. Let’s hope that is the case here.