Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Roger Williams Medical Center Consents to Deferred Prosecution Agreement

We have previously posted about the troubles of Roger Williams Medical Center (RWMC) here in Rhode Island. The hospital, its former CEO, and two other former executives were under federal indictment, charged with hiring a former state legislator to promote the hospital's legislative interests.

The latest news (per the Providence Journal, here and here) is that the hospital has consented to a federal deferred prosecution agreement. RWMC admitted "that the government has sufficient evidence to prove that [former CEO Robert A.] Urciuoli and [former Vice President Frances P.] Driscoll committed the offenses charged in the indictment." The hospital agreed to "significant reforms" to make it "a leader in corporate ethical conduct."

The hospital's operations will now be overseen by a federal monitor. Furthermore, "Roger Williams will hire an executive ethics officer, reporting directly to the board of directors, and strengthen its corporate compliance program, including employee training . The ethics officer will maintain a hot-line for employee complaints."

This was apparently the first deferred prosecution agreement in RI for a not-for-profit, and the US Attorney said that RWMC was "the first nonprofit in Rhode Island to face federal corruption charges."

Health Care Renewal has been commenting on the somewhat parallel case of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), which also is operating under a federal deferred prosecution agreement, and is under the supervision of a federal monitor.

The acting CEO of the hospital, Kenneth H. Belcher, said, "We need to take responsibility for our actions. We need to say we're sorry to our community, to our physicians, to our employees, the patients we serve, the government agencies that brought this action. And work to earn back the trust."

Responding to Belcher, Dr Paul Y Liu, chair of the hospital's surgery department said, "It's a breath of fresh air."

My gosh, it is a breath of fresh air. It's amazing to hear a hospital CEO apologize for managerial misconduct(even though he was not responsible for the actions of the previous administration).

Furthermore, the actions that RWMC will be undertaking may be a model for more ethical governance of health care non-profit organizations. In particular, in my humble opinion, the notion of an ethics officer with independent responsibilities to the board of directors is a great idea. Of course, having such an officer may then require the hospital to promulgate an explicit code of ethics for its management, which might be another first. As we mentioned in a previous post, academic medical centers have not up to now subscribed to explicit codes of ethics. [Chervenak and McCullough found "there has been to date no ethical framework offered that academic leaders can use to identify, prevent, and responsibly manage the ethical conflicts that are inherent, but sometimes hidden, in being an academic leader." Also, "ethics is an essential but largely neglected tool in the AHC (i.e., AMC) leader's 'toolbox'...." {Chervenak FA, McCullough LB. An ethical framework for identifying, preventing, and managing conflicts confronting leaders of academic medical centers. Acad Med 2004; 79: 1056-1061.}]

Will wonders never cease?

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