Wednesday, September 20, 2006

No More "Political Juice" for UMDNJ

After yet another brief hiatus, UMDNJ is back in the news once again. The university now is operating under a federal deferred prosecution agreement with the supervision of a federal monitor (see most recent posts here, here, here, here and here.) We had previously discussed 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. (See post here, with links to previous posts.)

The indefatigable Newark Star-Ledger recounted a report by the federal monitor now overseeing the university about the relationship of the university and New Jersey State Senator Wayne Bryant, chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee. The report alleged that Bryant was hired by the University for a "no-show" job.

Our conclusion is that UMDNJ created a no-work job for Senator Bryant so that he could use his political power in the state Senate to benefit his employer -- UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine. In short, Senator Bryant was paid $35,000 per year by UMDNJ to lobby himself in his capacity as a state senator.
The Star-Ledger also noted,

After Bryant took the job in March 2003, state funding for the university's School of Osteopathic Medicine, near Camden, increased substantially -- from $2.7 million in 2003 to $5.83 million in 2004. However, no one could document any real work Bryant did on campus.

No reports, memorandums, e-mail communication, correspondence or evidence of any work by the senator could be found or produced by the administration at the medical school in Stratford. No UMDNJ administrator could recall supervising what the senator was doing or what he was supposed to be doing.

Most people interviewed by Stern's office said Bryant spent only three hours a week on campus, from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays -- and, even then, inconsistently.

While Bryant was in his university office, the only thing anyone observed him doing was reading newspapers.

The dean of the osteopathic school, R. Michael Gallagher, indicated he wanted to hire Bryant and instructed his staff to create a position for Bryant to take advantage of his political clout, the report states.

Gallagher was removed as dean in June, after one of Stern's reports found Gallagher had charged thousands of dollars in dining and entertainment bills to university accounts....

According to the report, Gallagher ordered staffers to develop a job description for Bryant because there was no existing position in the medical school's table of organization that matched the senator's qualifications. Officials at the osteopathic school told the monitor's office it was clear Bryant was offered the post for his 'political juice.'
Bryant's response to the report was terse, according again to the Star-Ledger,

Under mounting political pressure, the influential chairman of the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee said yesterday a report that the state's medical university created a no-show job for him was 'not accurate in many respects.'

In a written statement, Sen. Wayne Bryant (D-Camden) said that during the entire time he was employed by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, he 'regularly performed the various duties and services that were consistent with my job description.'

The statement offered no elaboration, and Bryant, who has kept a long silence about the matter, did not return calls to his office for comment.
We can only hope that the leadership of UMDNJ, now operating under a deferred prosecution agreement, has ended its craving for "political juice." Instead, this parent university of multiple medical schools, academic medical centers, and other academic health care programs, deserves competent, transparent, ethical governance.

As a post-script, the story of UMDNJ remains one of the great examples of the "anechoic effect." This story has been reported essentially only by regional news media, lead by the Star-Ledger, and discussed only there and in blogs. No mention of it has appeared in any medical or health care journal. Failure of such stories to be discussed widely means that concentration and abuse of power in health care may still be going unrecognized as a national, even global problem.


Anonymous said...

UMDNJ-SOM is one of the osteopathic profession's leading state-sponsored institutions and Dr. Gallagher has been active in the profession serving on multiple national committees. Academic physicians and administrators from UMDNJ have populated several other colleges of osteopathic medicine across the country including other state-sponsored institutions in Michigan and Texas as well as private institutions in Pennsylvania and California. One wonders how deep the corruption runs.

There has not been any mention of these issues or events in any of osteopathic medical profession's journals or publications. Not a single call to examine or reform the cultural influences that may be brewing in colleges of osteopathic medicine across the country that would encourage these behaviors.

The "anechoic effect" is a great term to describe this phenomemon. The osteopathic profession has certainly evolved in a "country club" manner heavily influenced by entrepreneurial activities. Its academic establishment has embraced a "Starbuck's" approach to growth and expansion without properly securing resources for such expansion.

I think that Dr. Gallagher's behavior, as well as the behavior of other top administrators at the osteopathic school at UMDNJ, reflects an "end's-justify-the-means" organizational culture and complete lack of accountability that may be becoming increasingly more entrenched in the board rooms of osteopathic medical schools everywhere.

Anonymous said...
N.J. Power Broker Indicted On Corruption Charges


R. Michael Gallagher, the former dean of the state University of Medicine and Dentistry's School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford was also indicted on Thursday, the office said in a statement.

Bryant, the former Senate budget chairman who represents Camden -- the nation's poorest city -- and Gallagher were named in a 20-count indictment released by U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie.

The charges stem from a federal monitor's report in September that looked into alleged corruption at UMDNJ, the state medical school that promotes itself as the nation's largest health sciences university.

The monitor found UMDNJ created a job for Bryant in 2003 and that he showed up only one morning per week at most, did little more than read newspapers, yet was paid $35,000 per year. During that time, Bryant helped bring $12.8 million in state money to the school through his role as the Senate budget chairman.