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  • By Theodore Lewis

The art of extinguishing bridge fires

Portland, Maine — After a recent trip to Washington, D.C., where I ran into a former colleague whom I hadn't seen for some time, I was reminded of the words in the chorus of a great song, Burning Bridges, by Jack Scott: Burning Bridges behind me, it's too late to turn back now....

During our visit we had the opportunity to reminisce about the circumstance in which we first met, and I realized I had to pass along the lesson in life he taught me about burning bridges.

My first executive position was with a large tertiary hospital in the metro D.C. area, where I was hired as a vice president for support and ancillary services. One of the departments I was responsible for was human resources. A change I made without even meeting or checking out their longstanding legal consultant, Jeff Pargament, Esq., was giving instructions to use another legal consultant.

Mr. Pargament had been an accomplished attorney working for the National Labor Relations Board in D.C., who had gone into private practice and had developed an impressive portfolio. In fact, he had handled many cases for this hospital in the past and had never lost one.

Mr. Pargament had every reason to let that bridge burn from the fire I'd started, but fortunately for me, he didn't allow the bridge to burn.

A few years later, I had taken a job in charge of a small hospital in another region. Shortly after my arrival, I learned that an employee had filed a claim against the hospital alleging a discriminatory termination. Reviewing the HR department policies clearly showed they were inadequate and poorly written. Further, the department managers did not have a reasonable level of knowledge and expertise in their understanding of employment practices which contributed to the above employee claim.

In conferring with seasoned colleagues about this situation, they all recommended the same course of action: Retain Jeff Pargament Esq.!

Oh no, I thought! I had never even met Mr. Pargament and the bridge I lit afire years previously would surely have completely burned by now.

After considering options other than Mr. Pargament’s professional assistance, I took the advice of my colleagues and looked up his office number, (202) 775-0707, and learned that:

"Mr. Pargament has represented national and local clients on matters covering the spectrum of labor and employment law, including employment discrimination issues, wage and hour claims, union management relations, employee handbooks and policy manuals, harassment issues, and workers compensation."

I placed the call.

Miraculously to me, Mr. Pargament responded.

I asked for his assistance without mentioning the bridge fire I had started years earlier. Mr. Pargament professionally responded and agreed to help without mentioning the bridge fire that he had extinguished.

Over the next few weeks, Mr. Pargament used his professional experience and expertise to settle the employee’s claim and get it dismissed. Next, he focused on the HR department to assist in the development of new, updated policies. Further, he conducted training for all department managers in their role of hiring and managing hospital employees.

Since that time, Mr. Pargament has assisted most all of the organizations I've been associated with and none of these organizations lost one claim during the time of Mr. Pargament's involvement. He also developed and assisted with training programs for managers that significantly increased their effectiveness.

I'm very fortunate that Mr. Pargament taught me the art of learning when to put out bridge fires and the valuable lesson of being very careful before setting one.

Theodore Lewis is former CEO of Guam Memorial Hospital and has a healthcare consulting business based out of Portland, Maine. He is collecting stories about lessons learned in life and can be reached at

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