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After Nearly A Quarter Century, UPMC Will Have A New CEO


The controversial head of UPMC, Jeffrey Romoff, 75, is retiring after 24 years of leading the organization.

“I am proud of what we have accomplished during my almost five decades at UPMC, growing the organization to become a $23 billion global integrated health care delivery system," said the outgoing president and CEO in a note to UPMC staff.

Leslie C. Davis will succeed Romoff on Aug. 1, according to UPMC.

Romoff joined UPMC in 1973 as the director of the office of Education and Regional Programming at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital. In 1992, he was named president of UPMC, a title which was changed to president and CEO in 2006.

Under his leadership, UPMC not only became the largest hospital system in the state, but also expanded operations overseas to China, Ireland, Italy and Kazakhstan. Much of UPMC's growth occurred when the medical system’s transformed into an “integrated health care system” after it began providing health insurance in 1997.

That move created a major rift between UPMC and the region’s largest insurance provider at the time, Highmark Health. Highmark acquired its own medical system in 2013. As a result, UPMC refused to accept Highmark Health insurance at its medical facilities. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro sued UPMC in 2019, resulting in a 10-year agreement to accept Highmark insurance.

"We wish Jeff Romoff well in his retirement and look forward to working with Leslie Davis to build healthier and stronger communities," said David Holmberg, president and CEO of Highmark Health.

Romoff will stay on through Davis' transition until Oct. 1, during that time he'll have the title “president emeritus."

In an interview with WESA, Davis outlined her goals for the organization.

"We want to continue to deliver innovation, and groundbreaking science to all of our communities," she said. "As we continue to deliver great patient care, member experiences, and continue to be best in class."

A UPMC press release says the board unanimously approved of the appointment of Davis, who has been with UPMC for 17 years. In her most recent role, Davis led UPMC’s health service division, overseeing operations of UPMC’s 40 hospitals. Prior to that, she was the president of UPMC-Magee Women’s Hospital from 2004–2018.

SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, a union which has been highly critical of the low wages earned by UPMC food service and janitorial staff, said it was hopeful that Davis “Will work with us…to make sure that our area’s largest private employer creates good jobs that support middle-class families.”

Having once described his vision for UPMC as being the "Amazon" of health care, Romoff’s leadership has often garnered criticism due to UPMC's bullish approach to competitors, particularly in regards to Highmark.

Many critics have viewed UPMC’s behavior as inappropriate for a nonprofit medical provider, especially in light of Romoff’s more than $9 million salary.

“For too long, UPMC has used its strength and expertise to extract from our community,” said state Rep. Dan Frankel, an Allegheny County Democrat. “Over Jeffrey Romoff’s tenure, we’ve seen what it looks like when revenue targets drive decision making. With new leadership, UPMC could give Pittsburgh the health care provider, employer and neighbor it deserves.”

"Pittsburghers expect a return on that investment and need UPMC to use it’s power and wealth to foster truly healthy lives and communities, and to pay its fair share back to the community that made its success possible...I know the people of Pittsburgh look forward to making progress in all these areas and to renewing this conversation with Ms. Davis and her team," said Allegheny County state Rep. Ed Gainey, Democratic mayoral candidate for Pittsburgh.

But Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald praised Romoff’s leadership, calling his resignation "the end of an era."

"Much of our economic diversity after the collapse of the steel industry began with eds and meds beginning to grow here," said Fitzgerald. "[Romoff's] pioneering enterprises have developed a true medical and life science ecosystem that has benefitted those of us who live in southwest PA. "

Fitzgerald added that he's worked with Davis for a number of years, and that he has, "Confidence that she will be able to carry on in the same manner and carry on the good work that UPMC has done for us."

Updated: July 28, 2021 at 5:24 PM EDT
This story was updated with comments from Leslie Davis.
Updated: July 28, 2021 at 3:45 PM EDT
This story was updated with comments from Highmark CEO David Holmberg, state Reps. Dan Frankel and Ed Gainey, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
Corrected: July 28, 2021 at 11:32 AM EDT
This story was corrected to clarify when Romoff will assume his new title.
Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.