Dr. Bernadine Healy resigning as Red Cross chief, saying she was forced out

Friday, October 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ American Red Cross President Bernadine Healy announced her resignation Friday, saying she had been forced out of the job over policy differences with her board.

``The board felt I was out ahead of them making policy,'' she told reporters at a hastily called news conference. ``They didn't have any more confidence in me.''

She said the disputes dealt with how the American Red Cross should handle a decision by the International Red Cross to exclude the Israeli branch from membership in the global agency. She said there were also policy differences over how to spend nearly $500 million raised to help the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Asked why she was leaving after just two years and in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, she said, ``I had no choice.''

David McLaughlin, chairman of the Red Cross board, said the board did not push Healy out. Healy, standing beside McLaughlin, responded, ``I don't think that's true.''

She also told reporters ``there was a severe difference of opinion'' with the board and said that she had no choice about staying in her post.

Healy, 57, one of only two physicians to head the charity, said she would leave Dec. 31. She did not announce any plan beyond that.

Speaking to a ballroom filled with staff and volunteers, Healy said it was difficult to leave.

``Now seems right for new challenges in my own career,'' she said.

She said her decision to keep money raised in the aftermath of the terror attacks separate from other Red Cross donations was the right one. ``I strongly oppose commingling of the moneys with any other Red Cross disaster funds,'' she said, adding, ``Reasonable people can differ.''

Healy also said she had withheld administrative dues to the Red Cross' parent in Geneva over the Israel controversy, calling it a ``controversial but principled stand.''

``This policy is now up for grabs,'' she said. ``Reasonable people have differed with me on this and certainly other matters.''

Healy took the helm of the nation's largest charity on Sept. 1, 1999, succeeding Elizabeth Dole, who resigned to seek the Republican presidential nomination.

In the days following the Sept. 11 attacks, Healy was often in the public eye. She appeared at the White House by President Bush's side and on TV in public-service announcement urging Americans to donate blood or money in the tragedy's aftermath.

Healy rankled other charities collecting money for terror victims by refusing to go along with a coordinated effort led by the New York attorney general to keep track of how much money was being given to each family.

Many blood experts argued it was wrong to encourage blood donations when they were not needed to treat victims of the terrorist attacks. Critics worried that overcollections in the days following the attacks would force the Red Cross to discard blood that expired before it could be used.

This week, the Red Cross acknowledged that about 4.5 percent of the red blood cells collected on Sept. 11 just expired, and 6 percent collected on Sept. 12 was expected to expire. Typically, 2.5 percent of red blood cells expire 42 days after they are collected. But Red Cross officials insisted that no one's donation went to waste because plasma or other products from every donation, beyond red cells, was used.

Healy's tenure also has been marked by controversy surrounding Red Cross policies over who can donate blood and what measures must be taken to ensure its safety.

She was unable to free the organization from a court-ordered consent decree with the Food and Drug Administration over repeated violations of blood safety rules. Although the consent decree was in place when Healy took over the Red Cross, the FDA fight has escalated in recent months as the agency attempted to charge the Red Cross millions of dollars in fines.

She also took on the FDA last summer by pushing to restrict blood donations from anyone who had made even brief visits to Britain and Europe for fear of mad cow disease.

Healy is a former director of the National Institutes of Health, where she was a strong advocate on women's health issues, and former dean of the Ohio State University medical school. She also tried her hand in politics, unsuccessfully seeking the Republican Senate nomination in Ohio.

A native of Queens, N.Y., Healy earned her bachelor's degree from Vassar College in 1965 and medical degree from the Harvard School of Medicine in 1970.

She completed postgraduate work at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and was a member of the Hopkins faculty from 1976 to 1984.

Healy was chosen in 1984 by President Reagan to be deputy director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. From 1985 to 1991, she was chairwoman of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

She headed the National Institutes of Health from 1991 to 1993 before returning to Cleveland, where her husband, Dr. Floyd Loop, is chief executive officer of the Cleveland Clinic.