Blue Cross CEO of NC resigns following DWI, child abuse arrest

RALEIGH, N.C. — The CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina resigned Wednesday, months after being charged with DWI and child abuse.

Dr. Patrick Conway's resignation comes after intense pressure from North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey asking him to step down following the emergence of a video that shows Conway's SUV swerving through traffic on I-85 with his daughter's in the vehicle.

Causey called for Conway's resignation at a news conference earlier Wednesday, saying the CEO's actions showed "a lack of leadership and professionalism."

[READ MORE: Blue Cross North Carolina CEO charged with drunken driving]

"When I put my hand on the Holy Bible and took an oath to serve as North Carolina's Commissioner of Insurance -- I promised myself, my staff and the citizens of this state, that honesty will be the top priority, that this office will be accountable to the people we serve, that we will root out corruption and malfeasance and that leaders lead," Causey said.

The call for resignation came after news reports surfaced earlier this month about the June 22 crash that resulted in Conway's charges.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Board of Trustees sent a statement late Wednesday night in part: "The Blue Cross NC Board of Trustees has asked Dr. Conway for his resignation. Dr. Conway accepted the request and has issued his resignation effective immediately."

Statement from Dr. Conway:

"Throughout my life, I have been dedicated to one thing: helping people live longer, happier and better lives through access to affordable healthcare. Today, I am ashamed, embarrassed and sorry about my actions on June 22. I am especially sorry for the pain I have caused my family, friends and colleagues. I have never had an incident like this before and it is not consistent with who I am as a father, husband and community member. Following the incident, I immediately disclosed what happened to the Blue Cross North Carolina Board, stepped down from my daily duties and voluntarily and successfully completed 30 days of inpatient substance use treatment. However, I also understand that I must continue to work hard to earn back the trust I've lost based on my actions. I therefore am resigning my position as CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, and will continue to respect and honor the legal process. In time, I look forward to continuing my work ensuring everyone has access to high quality, affordable healthcare."

Conway reportedly swerved out of his lane on Interstate 85 in Randolph County and crashed into a tractor-trailer. His daughters, 9 and 7, were in the vehicle with him at the time of the crash. Nobody was injured in the crash.

(Dr. Patrick Conway)

Conway took a 30-day leave to attend a substance abuse program after his arrest, according to a letter obtained by our partners at WTVD.

A letter from Blue Cross NC Board of Trustees Chairman Frank B. Holding to Causey Tuesday revealed that leave of absence was suggested by the company's Board of Trustees.

The letter explains how the insurance company handled its CEO's run-in with the law and why the company didn't reveal any of what was happening to the public.

Causey said the efforts by the board of directors to hide Conway's arrest were disturbing and another example of poor judgment. He said the board misrepresented the events of the arrest by saying, "the incident was without incident and was a routine arrest."

After investigating the arrest, Causey said it was "anything but routine and Dr. Conway showed a complete lack of professionalism, respect and composure for the law enforcement officer and the legal process."

Witnesses shot cellphone video of the moments before Conway crashed. The couple who took the video said Conway's Cadillac Escalade was swerving all over I-85.

The couple said that after Conway nearly ran them off the road, they called troopers and started recording. They said Conway nearly hit several vehicles before side-swiping a tractor-trailer.

In a police report, the officer noted Conway had bloodshot eyes, smelled of alcohol and had trouble balancing. Conway told police he fell asleep while driving after working third shift the night before.

He said he was traveling from Raleigh to Lake James, near Morganton. Later, Conway admitted to police that he had two beers before driving.

When handcuffed and taken to jail for arrest, Conway was "absolutely belligerent," the officer wrote. The executive "would yell, then cry, then cuss me and other officers," and "had to be shackled to deter him from kicking the holding cell door," he wrote. The executive cursed himself, too, saying, "I have messed up so bad," the officer wrote. "He was almost pulling his hair on his head out."

The report said Conway tried to make the officer let him walk free, saying, "You don't know who I am. I'll call Governor Cooper and get you in trouble."

Causey said he could not move forward with any trust and confidence in Conway and believes the board failed to protect their policyholders.

"We are aware of your concerns about public transparency," Holding wrote. "Until now, we have refrained from proactively communicating with the public about the situation out of respect for the legal process underway in Randolph County, Dr. Conway's right to due process, and medical privacy concerns and obligations. We believe the Board has taken appropriate steps to handle this sensitive matter in a manner consistent with the privacy and legal issues at stake, as well as the Board's fiduciary obligations to Blue Cross NC."

[Blue Cross to add up to 170 jobs in North Carolina city]

Causey said despite Conway's disturbing criminal charges, he is most disappointed about how the board handled the matter.

"They have failed to be open and honest with their regulators and more importantly with the people of North Carolina. Dr. Conway demonstrated more than poor decision-making by putting his own children at risk as well as the lives of other motorists on the road with him that day," Causey said.

Patrick Conway


Full statement from Blue Cross NC's Board of Trustees on Conway's resignation:

"Immediately following Dr. Conway's accident, the BlueCross NC Board of Trustees began reviewing and monitoring the situation, with the help of outside counsel and other experts. As a part of its work, the specially convened committee of the Board reviewed public records and officer affidavits regarding the accident and arrest. However, new details have come to light, particularly notes from the arresting officers and contents from their investigative files of which the board was unaware. Based on this, the Board of Trustees gathered today to reexamine the situation and determine a course of action.

"The BlueCross NC Board of Trustees has asked Dr. Conway for his resignation. Dr. Conway accepted the request and has issued his resignation effective immediately.

"As a mission-driven organization, BlueCross NC is committed to doing business with honesty, integrity and fairness. The details that recently emerged related to Dr. Conway's arrest depict behavior that falls short of our standards. Despite Dr. Conway's many successes during his tenure at BlueCross NC, we feel that our constituents are best served by naming an interim CEO and beginning a formal search for a permanent replacement.

"As such, Chief Operating Officer Gerald Petkau will be the interim Chief Executive Officer of BlueCross NC, effective immediately. We are confident that the transition will be smooth, and that Gerald Petkau will continue to lead the fight to improve the quality of health services, lower costs, and deliver an overall exceptional experience for our members.

"We hope that this action begins to rebuild a trusting relationship with our regulators and customers."

Conway will attend a substance abuse program.

In a statement, Dr. Conway said, "Earlier this summer I was involved in a collision in Archdale, NC. Thankfully, no one was injured; however, I was charged with offenses related to the traffic accident. I deeply regret this incident as it is not consistent with the conduct that I strive to embody in my personal and professional life. I am taking this very seriously and am committed to dealing with the situation appropriately."

The developments come as the insurer -- the biggest in the state by market share -- has been seeking regulatory approval for a major deal in which it would tie up with Cambia Health Solutions, another powerful regional Blue insurer.

The combination would generate around $16 billion in annual revenue and cover some six million people. Conway, a prominent health-care executive and former federal health official, was slated to be chief executive if the deal goes through.

"This is a very serious matter because BCBS-NC is a $10 billion a year company. I call on the board of directors to fulfill their duty and put this matter behind them by finding a new CEO who can step in to provide the leadership and inspiration that the company needs moving forward," Causey said.

By law, the insurance commissioner cannot force a company to fire an employee, they can only provide strong recommendations.

The Wall Street Journal contributed to this story.