Hospital chief's death called suicide
By BRADY DENNIS
© St. Petersburg Times,
ZEPHYRHILLS -- Paul Norman, president of East Pasco Medical Center, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his Lake Bernadette home Sunday afternoon, authorities said.
He was 45.
The tragedy left hospital employees mourning and friends praising Norman as a humanitarian. The community was left with more questions than answers.
"It's an overwhelming shock to all of us," said hospital spokesman Jerry Sterner. "It's just very hard to understand. This was positively, totally unexpected."
About 60 staff members met in a first-floor conference room Monday morning. Some of them stood with bowed heads, some shed tears.
In the hallway, employees draped a black ribbon over a framed picture of Norman. A flag flew at half-staff outside.
Later in the day, hospital officials placed an easel holding a picture of Norman at three of the hospital's entrances. Flowers surrounded each of the pictures, under which a sign read, "In Loving Memory."
Pasco County sheriff's detectives arrived at Norman's Epping Lane house about 7 p.m. Sunday after two neighbors called 911.
Inside, the officers found Norman's body in a chair. In his right hand he held a Glock .40-caliber handgun. His right index finger was on the outside of the trigger guard, a report said.
He apparently had shot himself behind his right ear, said Deputy Terry Putnam. Authorities are treating the death as a suicide.
Investigators found a single empty shell casing several feet away under an end table.
They also found $8,900 in cash in the master bedroom that they turned over to Norman's wife, Donna.
Norman also had a teenage daughter. She lives elsewhere in Florida, Sterner said.
Norman's family declined to comment Monday. Neighbors who called 911 Sunday also declined to comment, saying the family had asked them to remain silent.
Norman took over as president of the hospital in October 1997, after leaving Tacoma Hospital in Greeneville, Tenn. He had a master's degree in health care administration from George Washington University, Sterner said.
In his short tenure at the hospital, Norman oversaw building expansions that increased the center to a 265,000-square-foot, 154-bed facility. Last year, the hospital completed a multimillion-dollar expansion of the emergency room, expanding it from 12 treatment rooms to 24.
In October, the hospital began construction on an estimated $8.6-million radiology lab and data processing expansion. The project will add more than 12,000 square feet to the existing building and is expected to wrap up later this year.
In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times in November, Norman outlined bold plans for expanding the hospital over the next five years.
He said he wanted to phase in another 40,000-square-foot emergency room expansion in 2002. After that, he wanted to double the number of beds in the hospital to between 250 and 300 by 2005.
He also spoke of plans to add an open-heart surgery unit and other equipment and space allowing the hospital to offer specialty care not currently available to east Pasco residents.
"We see ourselves becoming a regional medical center," Norman said in November. "We want to grow with the community and provide the kind of care they deserve."
On Monday, the hospital's future remained a topic of discussion. Only this time, people wondered where it would head without Norman at the helm.
"We're going to move on; he would want that. We still have patients to take care of and services to provide," Sterner said. "We will glean from his good leadership. Paul was a great leader, teacher and administrator. He had a vision for this place."
Zephyrhills City Manager Steve Spina was as surprised as anyone to hear the news of Norman's death. He remembered Norman as a humanitarian.
"He was so well respected for all the things the hospital did for the community," Spina said of Norman, who sat on the city's economic development committee. "He definitely made his mark here. He seemed to have everything going for him."
Kevan Metcalfe, hospital vice president and chief of nursing, agreed. He said it will be strange to come to work and not see Norman's familiar face.
"Paul was a good friend," Metcalfe said. "We did a lot of laughing. We certainly are grieving here. He's going to be missed."
No funeral arrangements had been announced Monday.
- Brady Dennis' phone number is 352-521-5757, ext. 23.
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111