Blunt Trauma

Pan American Hospital, an icon in Cuban Miami, is fighting for life as it battles its own employees

Rodriguez says he and Mora remained close friends until 1985, when Mora married Dr. Lourdes Sanjenis, seventeen years his junior, and began pushing her up the career ladder at Pan American. Gradually Rodriguez fell out of favor with Mora, and as the turn of the millennium approached and the hospital's fortunes began to wane, Rodriguez severed ties with his old friend and the hospital. (He still coordinates the annual medical convention, but does so in conjunction with the Dade County Medical Association.)

Today Lourdes Sanjenis is chairwoman of Pan American's board of directors. Most people familiar with the hospital portray her as iron-fisted in running the place. Rodriguez and another man who until recently was very close to the Mora family say Sanjenis brooks no disagreement and routinely intimidates hospital employees. They also say she is adamantly opposed to the union. "She'd rather die than have a union at her hospital," according to Rodriguez.

Rodriguez's bitterness toward Mora still burns hot. He redecorated his Gables office in teak pseudo-Asian furniture (complete with plug-in musical fountain) and scarlet walls as a tribute to his vendetta against his former boss, who favored more sedate furnishings. "This used to be one of his offices," Rodriguez says. "I keep it like this so if he sees it, maybe he has a heart attack." He now uses photos of Mora with Pinochet as anti-Mora propaganda.

Marietta Vasquez, a registered nurse at Pan American, has been active in the struggle to form a union at the hospital
Jonathan Postal
Marietta Vasquez, a registered nurse at Pan American, has been active in the struggle to form a union at the hospital

While Sanchez and Cardenas were trying to build lives in a new country, Rodriguez witnessed what he describes as the heyday and eventual disintegration of an extravagant way of life for the Mora clan and their close friends (himself included) at Pan American. "The hospital was like a private resource for the Moras," he recounts. "Family members got jobs, they got preferential treatment, they were all in the cafeteria for free food every day. And it got worse when Lourdes Sanjenis entered the picture."

Rodriguez says Sanjenis's family members, especially her mother, were also given preferential treatment when it came to the use of the hospital's services. Moreover as Mora's health began to decline with his age (he is now 80), Sanjenis effectively became the head of the hospital, regardless of who held Sanchez's position. (Sanjenis declined to speak with New Times for this article, and Mora is reportedly too ill to comment.)

Sanjenis's style, according to Juan Carlos Cardenas, is pretty well summed up in the anti-union flyer she penned this past June. It began on a patriotic note: "We are approaching our 228th year of independence, and we seem to take our freedom and democracy for granted more than we ever have." Sanjenis then revealed the truth behind organized labor: "Do the followers of SEIU know who these people running the Union are? Are they aware that its local President used to work for a union that goes by an acronym borrowed from a statue of Karl Marx in Moscow imploring the workers of the world to UNITE? Are the followers and politicians who support these labor unions aware of the ideology which drives these organizations? An oxymoron to say the least, we are constantly helping others to establish democratic processes in their country, but in our backyard we champion the causes of communist organizations whose ultimate goal is to deprive us all of our freedoms."

Sanjenis's mettle was tested in the late Nineties, when Pan American underwent the first in a series of convulsions that led to its current precarious state. "For a long time everything was great," Rodriguez says. "Then everything started to fall apart with the investigations and the nonsense."

Neither the State Attorney's Office nor the FBI will comment, but Rodriguez and others say they've been interviewed by agents about alleged financial improprieties at Pan American. The first public mention of any such investigation came in the aftermath of the hospital's purchase of the UnitedHealth Group clinics. At the time of the acquisition Carolina Calderín was Pan American's CEO (the title was changed to executive director when Sanchez took over). Although she would not speak to New Times, Calderín filed a lawsuit in 2000 charging that Mora and others "looted" Pan American prior to the purchase of the clinics. Calderín alleged that her concerns were ignored by Pan American's administration and board of directors until she told them, according to her lawsuit, that the FBI was investigating.

Shortly thereafter Mora, then the board's chairman, fired Calderín, accusing her of buying stock in a software company she was simultaneously recommending to provide services for the newly purchased clinics. After being terminated, Calderín filed her lawsuit, claiming defamation.

Many of the accusations in the lawsuit match the accounts of Rodriguez and another former Mora confidante. Calderín alleges, among other things, that Pan American was Mora's "personal piggy bank," that one of Mora's sisters lived rent-free in an apartment owned by the nonprofit, and that Sanjenis was paid a $60,000 annual salary to do little more than process applications for hospital credentials twice a month. (No criminal charges have been filed.)

That the financial crisis at Pan American would lead to an attempt to unionize still surprises Cardenas. "It's hard to lump all Cubans together, of course," he says, "but generally speaking, the labor movement has connotations that are unacceptable in this community. But the thinking is changing."

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