FONTAINE BLUE

Fontaine Blue

By

Leonard Zwelling

         For most of you without Bubbies (grandmothers) living on
Miami Beach now or in the past, the Fountainebleau is not a familiar name. It
was and is a hotel. It is the center of luxury on Collins Avenue and was the
height of extravagance when I was young and visited my grandmother who lived in
a condominium in North Miami Beach. I adopted the hotel name for the title, but
this blog is not about luxury hotels.

         As the regular readers of my blog know, I have had a very
tempestuous relationship with Dan Fontaine over the years. Dan was first
associated with MD Anderson when he came to my rescue when Dr. Hohn and I were being
sued by a faculty member in federal court in 1995-1996. Dan led the team of attorneys from
the UT Office of General Counsel in Austin that managed to get the case
dismissed. During the course of this protracted adventure, we changed
Presidents at Anderson and Fontaine and new leader Mendelsohn struck up a
relationship that led to Dan’s being retained as Anderson’s lead lawyer. From
there, he steered Dr. Mendelsohn and his executive team through the morass that
was Enron and ImClone and conflicts of interest and the Washington Post’s front
page story about 195 human subjects unaware of Dr. Mendelsohn’s ownership of
stock in the company making the drug he discovered that was being given to the
Anderson human subjects in protocol-based experiments.

Suddenly
in 2001 and 2002, every problem at Anderson became one of risk management and
compliance requiring that every solution include an attorney on the team assembled
to meet the challenge.  Usually the
lawyers took the lead. Usually that lawyer was Dan. We were on many of those
teams together and did some important work protecting the institution to the
best of our abilities.

Over
the remaining Mendelsohn years Dan ingratiated himself to John, managed to ride
Dave Callender, John DiGiovanni and me out of town, and to essentially become
the second in command at MD Anderson through two Provost changes. In what can
only be described as sheer mastery of palace intrigue, Dan managed to weather
the transition to Dr. DePinho’s leadership and accumulate more power and fewer
rivals. Do you see Adrienne Lang and Tom Burke around any more? Me neither.
Goodness knows who is next to feel the Fontaine of Sorrow, but be sure there
will be others until Dan consolidates all of the institutional financial,
administrative and political infrastructure (the 3 Coins in the Fontaine?)
under his thumb while Dr. Buchholz assures Dr. DePinho of the money and tissue
samples he needs to fulfill the manifest destiny of the Moon Shots.

This
is the reality of MD Anderson as I see it in 2014. Where once 20 or 30 and as
recently as last year five or six people ran the place, now it is down to
two—Ron and Dan. Ron has the research, the money and the tissue delicatessen.
Dan has everything else.

While
I have my own bones to pick with Dan, there were times when he helped me a
great deal. It was he who removed me as a VP and then got me assigned to
oversee the rebuilding of morale at Smithville 2 years later. He even offered
to extend my contract beyond the period approved by the Promotion and Tenure
Committee (I was out by August 2014 for sure, but Dan offered me an extra
year). The price, however, was me requesting the extension and offering to sign
a non-disparagement agreement (I have no idea whether others have signed these
to preserve their retirement and severance packages like Dr. DuBois, Dr.
Pollock, Ms. Lang, etc. Apparently according to Will Blythe in the NY Times on
January 3, 2014, such agreements have become routine, see link). I did not
request the extension—obviously. Just like Mr. Blythe, “I want to tell the
truth, even if it isn’t pretty….I’ll keep my self-respect”.

But
there were also other times when Dan threw me under the bus in the name of
“business”. (While I was putatively relieved of my vice presidency by Dr.
DuBois on his very first day at 8 in the morning, Dan did all the talking and
escorted me to the parking lot, not allowing me to say good-bye to those who
worked with me). To Dan it was never personal, only business and there’s
nothing wrong with that if you want MD Anderson to resemble Godfather 4. (I
know Carlo had to answer for Santino, but who is answering for Resource One)?

Now,
the institution as a whole has a much greater challenge. Just as Dr. DePinho
has recently concluded that the negatives outstrip the positives when it came
to Raph Pollock, Adrienne Lang, Tom Burke and many others (including me, no
doubt), the faculty has to determine the same for Mr. Fontaine.

It
is not whether or not Dan is good or bad for the President. His presence and
the President’s willingness to toss anyone overboard on a whim makes that
clear. If you are still here, Ron either thinks you are advancing his agenda or
doesn’t care about you at all. The faculty has to decide when enough is enough
with regard to the institution they love being run by two people neither of
whom has a clue about the most important function of MD Anderson—patient
care.

Well,
boys and girls, what will it be?  Or, as
my Bubbie in Florida might say if she were still alive and walking past the
Fountainebleau on Collins Avenue—NEW?

How
much more Fontaine Blue are you willing to feel? Remember, it’s only business.

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