Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Naming a University Teaching Hospital for a Pharmaceutical Company

We recently posted (here and here) about the controversy that erupted after the leadership of the University of Iowa proposed naming their new school of public health after a local for-profit insurance company in exchange for a substantial gift from the company's associated foundation. The ensuing newspaper coverage noted that there seems to be no precedent for naming an educational instution after a corporation (as opposed to naming one for an individual donor).

One of our astute readers, however, found this amazing example. The main pediatrics teaching hospital for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School is the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital, named, of course, for Bristol-Myers Squibb, the large pharmaceutical company.. The hospital was apparently well supported by grants from the the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation.

The hospital opened in 2001. As best as I can tell from a Lexis-Nexis search, there was not the slightest controversy about naming a hospital for a large pharmaceutical company. Obviously, doctors and faculty at the hospital may choose to use Bristol Myers Squibb products, and to perform research, consult, or give talks for the company. Yet there was no public discussion about whether having the hospital named for the drug company produced even the appearance of an institutional conflict of interest.

The naming of the hospital occurred at a time when, in retrospect, the leadership of UMDNJ proved to be quite troubled. The university now is operating under a federal deferred prosecution agreement under 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 posts here, and here, with links to previous posts.) A recent development (see post here with links to previous posts) was that UMDNJ apparently gave paid part-time faculty positions to some community cardiologists in exchange for their referrals to the University's cardiac surgery program, but not in exchange for any major academic responsibilities. Another was some amazingly wasteful decisions by UMDNJ managers leading to spending millions of dollars for real-estate that now stands vacant (see post here). Another was the indictment of a powerful NJ politician for getting a no-work job in the system, and the indictment of the former dean of the university's osteopathic medicine school for giving him the job (see post here).

The decision to name the hospital for the drug company was made before the federal deferred prosecution agreement was put in place. One wonders if the ongoing investigation of the previous regime at UMDNJ may cover how it ended up naming a hospital for a drug company. Since the hospital is part of a state institution, one also wonders if naming the hospital violated any conflict of interest policies or regulations.

The decision to name the hospital also took place in 2001, before the pervasive nature of conflicts of interest in health care started receiving some attention. I wonder how many other glaring examples of such conflicts we would find if we only had the time to look more into the modern history of health care.

But each one of these conflicts, no matter how financially advantageous for the parties immediately involved, has the potential to negatively affect health care for the broad population, by raising costs, impeding access, or degrading quality. It is not too late to address this member of the herd of elephants in health care's living room.

ADDENDUM (31 July, 2007) - Please see the comment below from Ed Silverman of PharmaLot, which contains the text of a 1999 Newark Star-Ledger editorial which criticizes the naming of the hospital for a drug company as "commercialism."

1 comment:

esilverman said...

Hi Roy,

Actually, The Star-Ledger of New Jersey wrote this editorial back in 1999, when the name game was first being played.

Unfortunately, the paper wasn't part of Lexis-Nexis, which explains why you couldn't find this. But I dug it out of the archives.

Nonetheless, you raise a good point. There wasn't much of a squawk about this move at the time otherwise.

Ed Silverman

(Pharmalot is owned by The Star-Ledger of New Jersey)

The Star-Ledger Archive
COPYRIGHT © The Star-Ledger 1999

Date: 1999/09/28 Tuesday Page: 022 Section: EDITORIAL Edition: FINAL

The wrong name

W e are accustomed to hospitals being named for people who were saints, for the communities they serve and for those things that patients pray they will receive: hope and mercy.

But Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital?

Because of a $5 million donation, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick plans to name its new $60 million children's hospital after the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical giant. We do not think it should.

A corporate giving program should not put a hospital's identity up for bid or slap a commercial label on its forehead.

A hospital, particularly a children's hospital, must be free of even the appearance of a conflict of interest. No parent reading the label on a child's IV should have to worry because the brand name of the drug is the same as the name over the door.

The gift is generous, and it should be accepted. The many plaques and inscriptions in our hospitals now speak of the tradition of corporate giving - in the quiet way that true philanthropy should speak.

But when corporate generosity shouts, it is commercialism. And when a hospital takes money from a corporation that sells it drugs and medical products, the need to keep a quiet distance is even more pressing.

We are not forgetting that Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School are named for a man who was half of a very valuable pharmaceutical monogram, Johnson & Johnson.

However, he was an individual, his posthumous philanthropy flowed through a foundation and over time the foundation proved that the distance between it and the for-profit corporation was great and would not be breached.

Bristol-Myers Squibb's gift is not so far removed. Half the money is coming from the corporation's charitable foundation, the other half from its pharmaceutical division.

No one is accusing the hospital of favoring Bristol-Myers Squibb in its purchasing decisions, and no one is claiming that the company expects any special treatment in return for the gift. We trust both parties will guard against that kind of ethical lapse.

The issue is the appearance. The parent who brings a sick child for care and looks up at the name of a drug company must be concerned in a way the ticket holders streaming into the PNC Bank Arts Center or the Continental Arena need not be.

The two partners in this act could offer some reassurance by going back to the days when corporate generosity was rewarded with a plaque, an IRS deduction and the knowledge of having done something good.