Hospitals

University Hospitals’ James Levine is again Mayo Clinic’s James Levine

A little over six months ago Dr. James Levine was University Hospitals Case Medical Center’s prestigious new recruit – a rockstar doctor from Mayo Clinic who helped pioneer the treadmill desk and won international acclaim as a groundbreaking obesity researcher. Now, Levine has gone back to Mayo, leaving in his wake lots of unanswered questions […]

A little over six months ago Dr. James Levine was University Hospitals Case Medical Center’s prestigious new recruit – a rockstar doctor from Mayo Clinic who helped pioneer the treadmill desk and won international acclaim as a groundbreaking obesity researcher.

Now, Levine has gone back to Mayo, leaving in his wake lots of unanswered questions about why his stay with Cleveland’s University Hospitals (UH) was so brief.

“You’ll have to ask him,” UH spokeswoman Janice Guhl said. “He got here and was very excited and then felt this wasn’t the right structure for him. It was totally his decision.”

The mysterious loss of its most high-profile recruit in years has to be seen as a blow to UH, which has recently racked up several notable victories, including the opening of a new $300 million suburban medical center and its largest-ever donation. The health system had tapped Levine to lead its endocrinology division.

News of a hire of Levin’s stature was greeted late last year with much fanfare by UH and the local press. Dr. Richard Walsh, UH’s chairman of medicine, crowed that Levine was “one of the most innovative thinkers” in weight-loss research and pronounced himself “thrilled” that Levine was joining the health system.

When I interviewed the voluble and engaging Levine in November, his enthusiasm for an ambitious public health initiative called “The Cleveland Project” was infectious.”On one hand, I’m probably crazy to be doing this, but on the other, it’s such an honor to try to help people get healthy, so at least I want to try,” he said at the time.

So what could’ve caused things to go wrong and send Levine scurrying back to the friendly confines of Rochester, Minnesota, and Mayo? Levine isn’t saying.

In a brief email forwarded to me through a Mayo spokesman, Levine ducks the “why” question. Here’s what he said: “I had a superb six-month sabbatical at Case…the Cleveland Project grant is under review at CDC…..we hear news in the first week of July.  That will be a world-changing healthcare delivery system in the underserved.”

That’s it. When I told the Mayo spokesman, who noted that Levine was “swamped at the moment,” that the response didn’t exactly answer all my questions, he said, “I don’t have that information; you’ll have to get it from him when he’s available.”

So we’re left to wonder whether Levine will be “available” any time soon. (Dr. Levine, if you’re reading this, you know where to find me.)

Credit UH – which obviously isn’t in as good a position as Levine to answer why he departed – for shedding slightly (I stress “slightly”) more light on the situation.

Guhl said she wasn’t sure of the timing around Levine’s tenure with UH. When his hiring was first announced, he was to begin at UH on Nov. 1. He apparently had returned to Mayo at least as far back as mid-April, when he was interviewed by the New York Times for an article on his research into what the newspaper called “inactivity studies,” which roughly focuses on how people burn calories during periods of non-exercise. (The article is well worth a read for more background into Levine’s research and begins with the tantalizing four words, “Dr. Levine’s magic underwear…”)

Still, the question remains, why would Levine so quickly quit a job he initially seemed so enthused about? Homesickness for Rochester? A dispute with his superiors? Did he discover he’d have less input and control into “The Cleveland Project” than he was initially led to believe? His silence only invites speculation.

Only Levine can answer, and when and if he does, let’s hope it’s something a little more genuine than the cliched “I just wanted to pursue other opportunities” or “It was time for me to move on.”