Wednesday, September 28, 2005

"The University of Pay to Play or Stay"

The agony continues at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), a state university that is the largest free-standing health care university in the US.
A previous post described the allegations that UMDNJ had offered no-bid contracts, at times requiring no work, to the politically connected; had paid for lobbyists and made political contributions, even though UMDNJ is a state institution; and seemed to be run by political bosses rather than health care professionals.
Our next post described a mysterious burglary at an UMDNJ administrative office that raised suspicions of criminal activities meant to remove incriminating documents, and lead to colorful editorial comments. A Star-Ledger editorial noted, "at least two definitions come to mind when considering the term 'black bag.' First, there's a doctor's medical bag. Then there's the slang meaning a secret, illegal break-in, usually by a government agency. Now, thanks to the latest jaw-dropping incident at New Jersey's University of Medicine and Dentistry, there's no need to make the distinction between the two."
Another post described allegations about serious conflicts of interest affecting five UMDNJ board members, which threatened the university's educational accreditation.
In the last month, there has been more and more trouble.
No-Show Consultants- According to the Bergen Record, UMDNJ filed two lawsuits alleging that two of its previous consultants did no work for the money they were paid. They were Patrick H. McCarthy, who dealt with "Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement issues," and International Brokerage Concepts Inc., and the estate of its former president, Ronald White, who were supposed to "apprise the university of [then incoming New Jersey Governor James E.] McGeevey's 'health vision.'"
Questionable Donations- According to the Newark Star-Ledger, the UMDNJ vice president for government affairs, Christy Davis Jackson, reimbursed the university for three small contributions she had authorized to Newark Mayor Sharpe James, the Democratic State Committee, and the Hispanic American Political Action Committee. Davis Jackson had been previously reported to have made a $10,000 donation to an unregistered charity, Women With Hats on for the Cure, run by Newark Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield-Jenkins. Davis Jackson had worked as a lobbyist for Babyland Family Services, which was run by Chaneyfield-Jenkins' mother. The latter contribution has not been reimbursed.
Board Conflicts of Interest- Two Republican candidates for the NJ General Assembly filed a formal ethics complaint against five UMDNJ trustees, alleging serious conflicts of interest, according to the Bergen Record. (See our previous post here for details of the alleged conflicts.)
More "Black-Bag Jobs"- It turns out there have been a lot more than one burglary of the UMDNJ administrative offices. The Newark Star-Ledger reported at least 10 "reported break-ins, thefts and attempted burglaries in the administrative offices at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey since the start of a federal corruption investigation...." Alexander Menza, a UMDNJ trustee, reacted, "Some of the stuff that's taken is so petty, so miniscule it doesn't make any sense." He thought they might be part of a "cover up," noting, "these things are done all the time. People would commit a major crime and take a tin of pennies to indicate it was something else."
Bonuses to Administrators- While all these events reminiscent of a lurid crime novel have taken place, the Newark Star-Ledger reported that UMDNJ administrators are pushing to award extremely generous bonuses to themselves. Some incentive bonuses were for more than $100,000. After a contentious meeting, the UMDNJ trustees voted to delay a proposal to rescind the bonuses, and get yet another consultant to evaluate them. Said trustee Frederic C. Sterritt, a dentist, "we're running a billion-dollar business here and it's going great." Furthermore, UMDNJ president, John Petillo argued that it would be "unethical to withhold payments that many now consider part of their annual pay package." Newsday reported that State Health Commissioner Fred Jacobs, a non-voting board member who represents the Governor, responded, "we need to take steps to restore credibility to the administration and accountability to the university.... There are board members who do not acknowledge the serious problems going on, and I do not know why." And the Star-Ledger reported that Interim New Jersey Governor Richard Cody said that Sterritt "seemed to be on another planet."
These bonuses inspired more colorful editorial writing, e.g., in the Bergen Record, "The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey might want to consider a name change to the University of Pay to Play and Stay." The editorial advised Sterritt to consider working for Tyco, the scandal-ridden company headed by the now convicted Dennis Kozlowski. The editorial also likened board members to "bad teeth [that] are pulled. You would think at UMDNJ there would be a dentist when you needed one."
My heart goes out in sympathy to my friends and colleagues, and all the dedicated, honest people who toil at UMDNJ despite these lurid events.
It is outrageous that a major American health care university could be run this way. Again, all those who bemoan poor health care quality, rising health care costs, and decreasing health care access need to pay attention to the mismanagement now rampant at American health care organizations, from pharmaceutical and device makers, to managed care organizations and insurers, to hospitals, medical centers, and universities.

No comments: