Xavier Magazine

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It was a perfect winter day in New Haven, Conn., on Jan. 15—sunny skies, 20 degrees, crisp and clear—the kind of day that made David Benfer happy to go to work. But by 11:00 a.m., it quickly dissolved into the worst day of his life.

Benfer, a 1970 M.B.A graduate and chief executive officer of the St. Raphael Healthcare System, found himself at ground zero of a swirling crisis. Two elderly patients in one of his hospitals were dead because of a faulty gas valve and human error. They, essentially, were gassed to death.

“When you have something like this occur on your watch, it’s like your worst nightmare,” Benfer says.

The hospital went into crisis mode for weeks—police investigations, lawsuits, state and federal probes, daily newspaper headlines. And Benfer is still living the nightmare, which he shared with a health services administration class in July, telling the students they should study and learn from such costly cases.

Benfer is one of more than 80 health care presidents and CEOs nationwide who visit campus to share their wisdom and experiences with each class of students.

“Before our students begin their residencies,” says department chair Ida Schick, “they need to know not only what the current issues are, but how they are being handled in the real world.”

Including deadly mistakes. One lesson Benfer imparted: Don’t place blame where there is no obvious intent. Benfer practices what he preaches. After extensive investigations, no one was fired for the incident.

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