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The interim CEO of Kaleida Health is pledging to improve relationships with physicians and union employees, and he believes that unleashing their potential will lead to an improved bottom line for the hospital system, the region’s largest private employer and healthcare provider.

Jody L. Lomeo, the president and CEO of Erie County Medical Center, replaced Kaleida CEO James R. Kaskie last Friday after the Kaleida board requested Kaskie’s resignation, citing a need for a change in leadership.

In his first public remarks since taking the interim position, Lomeo said he’s focused in his first week on the job on meeting with executives, physicians, union workers and other employees to personally address their concerns and to bring them his message of employee-driven change.

“We need to pick up the pace, perform better, better engage, better clarify our purpose,” Lomeo said an interview Thursday afternoon.

Among the highlights from Lomeo’s conversation with The News:

• He first learned he might be asked to take the interim CEO’s position on Jan. 26, five days before the news was announced publicly, when Kevin Hogan, the ECMC board chairman, informed him that Hogan was discussing this scenario with John R. Koelmel, Kaleida’s board chairman.

• Lomeo said Kaleida’s recent “break-even” financial performance isn’t sufficient, and the system has to bring expenses in line with the demand for its services. But he said he is optimistic that bottom-up changes will lead to a boost in patient volume, and in revenues.

He did not speak more specifically about job cuts, but said, “It’s a results-driven business.”

• He said Kaleida’s relationship with its approximately 10,000 employees, particularly with physicians, “needs work,” but he said he faced similar issues when he first took his position at ECMC, also on an interim basis, in 2008. “To me, this is a little bit of déjà vu all over again,” Lomeo said.

He said he believes any changes affecting the union work force will be “easier to tolerate, and implement,” if those employees feel they have a say in those decisions and aren’t put into an “us-versus-them” situation.

email: swatson@buffnews.com