Dr. Vivian Lee has resigned as the leader of University of Utah Health Care, just days after the resolution of a bitter fight over the future of the system’s cancer institute.
In a statement released late Friday, the university’s president, David Pershing said he had accepted Lee’s resignation as chief executive of the health system and dean of the university’s medical school. She will remain at the school as a professor of radiology.
The resignation is a sudden reversal of fortune for an executive who brought new prominence to the University of Utah by pursuing bold initiatives, such as an effort to track the precise costs of delivering health care. She stepped down after a fight over the university’s cancer center with its chief benefactor, the powerful Huntsman family.
Early last week, Lee and Pershing fired the director of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Mary Beckerle, in a move that irate members of the Huntsman family described as a “power grab.” KSL News Radio/KSL.com reported Friday that the firing was based on a faulty analysis of the ability of the cancer center to get grants. The Huntsmans repeatedly and harshly criticized Lee in the media and called for her removal.
Beckerle was reinstated earlier this week following a meeting of the university’s trustees.
A memo from Lee to colleagues was posted on Twitter Friday evening. Lee, who has led the health system since 2011, wrote: “We should not let the events of the last two weeks divert our attention from our fundamental mission…I know full well that many wonderful friends and colleagues are rightly upset, and that many others are at least very puzzled. I deeply regret this and give my apologies to all.”
She added: “It is fair to say that some of the strong invective directed at my integrity and character, which was carried in the news media over the last two weeks, has been disturbing, especially to younger members of our community…I am hoping my decision today will help in putting that completely in the past.”
In calling for Lee’s dismissal, Jon Huntsman Sr., the patriarch of the family, referred to her association with Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist. In 2014, Soon-Shiong gave $12 million to the university to fund cancer research, but the university ended up sending $10 million of the donation back to one of his companies to carry out genetic analysis for that research. That donation may soon be the subject of a state probe, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
In his statement Pershing thanked Lee for her service and took note of her accomplishments at the university, crediting her with leading a “remarkable transformation of our academic and research operations.” He also said, she ” has been at the forefront of innovations in health care delivery at the national level.”
The statement noted Lee has authored more than 175 papers in scientific journals, become a national voice in health care reform, and received an array of accolades, including her selection for the Council of Councils for the National Institutes of Health and receipt of the Utah Governor’s Medal of Science and Technology.