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."
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