The renowned cancer leader steps down amid a power struggle within the OSU medical operation.

The power struggle within Ohio State’s medical operation has claimed one of its most prominent leaders. Dr. Michael Caligiuri, the CEO of the James Cancer Hospital and a fixture at Ohio State for two decades, resigned today effective immediately, OSU President Michael Drake announced.

The development highlights deepening tensions between the university’s profitable cancer program and those within the university—including Drake—who want to challenge the cancer program’s unique independence. Caligiuri’s resignation comes six months after a faculty revolt forced out former med center CEO Sheldon Retchin, who was accused of, among other things, trying to “assert his leadership” over the university’s cancer program. Unlike other parts of Ohio State’s $3.4 billion health care system, the university’s cancer program—the James Cancer Hospital and the Comprehensive Cancer Center—has remained largely independent, with Caligiuri and his predecessors reporting directly to the president and the provost rather than to the CEO of the med center.  This arrangement, cancer administration officials say, allows the James to qualify for a lucrative federal payment exemption that supports longer patient hospital stays.

A renowned leukemia researcher, Caligiuri’s recruitment to Ohio State in 1997 was a pivotal moment in the history of the medical center. He came to Ohio State along with the husband-and-wife team of Dr. Albert de la Chapelle and Dr. Clara Bloomfield, Caligiuri’s mentor, who took over the leadership of the Comprehensive Cancer Center, the research arm of the cancer program. In 2003, Caligiuri replaced Bloomfield as the leader of the cancer center and then took the reins of the James Cancer Hospital five years later when its longtime director Dr. David Schuller retired.

Under Caligiuri’s leadership, the new 21-story, $750 million James Cancer Hospital opened in 2014, which has fueled a financial boom for the med center, generating a record-setting $302 million profit in the last fiscal year. Caligiuri also spearheaded the creation of the Pelotonia charity bike ride, which has raised more than $130 million for cancer research at Ohio State since it was founded in 2008.

“Dr. Caligiuri has been an integral part of the success of our cancer program and our efforts to advance the care we provide to patients and their families in our community, across the nation and around the world. The university is thankful for his many years of dedicated service and leadership—as are the countless individuals who have benefitted from outstanding care during his tenure,” wrote Drake in an email sent out to OSU faculty.

The internal strife within the med center became public when more than 50 faculty members signed their names to four letters blasting Retchin’s leadership in early May. Caligiuri’s name wasn’t on any of those letters—the first of which was penned by 25 cancer doctors and researchers—but a med center source says Caligiuri supported the effort.  Since then, OSU med center officials have worked to address some of the concerns outlined in the letters, but they’ve struggled to win over cancer faculty.

Caligiuri’s resignation came “out of the blue,” the med center source says. In early November, Caligiuri stepped down from his role as the director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center—a change in the works for 18 months—but he retained his more prominent position as the CEO of the James. That news, however, also came on the same day that the university announced plans to create a “chancellor” of the med center that would have broader influence than Retchin had as a CEO.

The med center source isn’t sure what changed from early November. “I only spoke with Mike for five minutes,” the source said. “What he did say is that it is clear he has lost the ability to lead here at OSU.”

For a detailed look at the power struggle within the med center, read our cover story in the December issue of Columbus Monthly on newsstands now.

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