Friday, March 24, 2006

The Cloud Spreads from UMDNJ

The cloud from ongoing problems at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) is starting to spread over other institutions.

We have posted extensively at the troubles at UMDNJ, which now is operating under a federal deferred prosecution agreement with the supervision of a federal monitor (see most recent post 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 Philadelphia Inquirer just reported that New Jersey Governor Corzine is proposing substantial ($169 million) cuts in state higher education funding affecting all state colleges and universities, not just UMDNJ, because he believes that the problems at UMDNJ reflect systemic problems with the management of all New Jersey higher education. He said, "frankly, the UMDNJ issue tells me there may be management weaknesses. UMDNJ tells me the institutions are not as disciplined as we would like...." Furthermore, if the colleges and universities try to make up the cuts with tuition increases, not management cuts, Corzine is threatening to re-organize the entire state higher education effort.

Meanwhile, the Inquirer also reported that questions are being raised about former UMDNJ managers who wound up at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. We had previously posted about two fomer managers who wound up at Drexel after receiving golden parachutes from UMDNJ. James Archibald, former senior vice president for administration and finance at UMDNJ, is now Senior Vice President for Health Sciences at Drexel. John Ekanius, former vice president for government and public affairs at UMDNJ, is now Associate Dean for External Relationships and Strategic Development. The Inquirer reported that Archibald had arranged one of the famous "no-bid contracts" at UMDNJ, with the late, politically connected Ronald A. White, former fund raiser for New Jersey's former Governor Jim McGeevey. Drexel also hired David L Printy as chief operating and business development officer at the medical school. He left a year later after a "problem" he had with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 1996 was revealed, which had lead to a 10 year ban from working in the securities field.

Drexel was the successor institution to the former Allegheny University of Health Sciences (AUHS), part of the Allegheny Health Education and Research Foundation (AHERF). As the Inquirer pointed out, "Allegheny leaders spent tens of millions of dollars in restricted medical endowments to keep the money-losing system afloat. That resulted in a 2002 plea and a 11 1/2 - month sentence for Allegheny's head, Sherif Abdelhak. (For a somewhat more detailed history of the AHERF debacle, see the article I wrote for the RI chapter newsletter for the Amercian College of Physicians.) The Inquirer quoted a former assistant US attorney re Drexel's relationship to AHERF, "when you are the successor to a company that has gone through the tumultuous times with law enforcement like Allegheny, there should be lessons learned and a desire to reestablish credibility, not only with regulators, but with the public at large."

Yet, in addition to Printy's "issue," there were other issues raised about Archibald after he became the leader to which Drexel's medical school reported. Archibald's only experience with health care had come during his management career at UMDNJ. Before then he was the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for SEPTA, the Philadelphia municipal transit system. The Inquirer stated, "Archibald's style and lack of medical credentials angered many on the Drexel faculty." "In March, 2004, nearly all of the 23 [Drexel] department chairs signed a letter to [Drexel President] Papadakis, seeking Archibald's demotion.... 'The dean must be empowered to be the unquestioned leader' they wrote.... The letter stated that the atmosphere of the school had 'become one of both dysfunction and distrust.'" 18 months later, the new dean of the medical no longer had to report directly to Archibald. The Inquirer article was silent about whether the Drexel medical school faculty still feel the institution's atmosphere is characterized as dysfunction and distrust.

The new Governor of New Jersey has realized the existence of widespread mismanagement in our formerly trusted and revered health care and educational institutions, and the consequences such mismanagement may have. I hope the President of Drexel, which only acquired a medical school due as a consequence of mismanagement, and worse, at Allegheny, now realizes that not everyone who fell into health care management in the last 20 boom years necessarily should continue in these roles.

Addendum: Some quick Google searching revealed that Ms. Susan Mettlen, formerly vice president for information services and technology at UMDNJ, who became Chief Information and Technology Officer for Drexel medical school, was forced to resign her position of vice chancellor for information infrastructure at the University of Tennessee in 1998 after questions were raised about her relationship with a company that sold software to the school. Maybe the people who oversee the managers of health care organizations should learn how to use Google.

Addendum (4/7/2006): The Philadelphia Inquirer published a letter from Joseph Jacovini, chair of the Drexel University Board of Trustees, in response to the article cited above:
The reputation of a university is its most important asset. Your Page One headline ("N.J. probe may touch Drexel's reputation," March 24) unfairly imputes a Drexel association with this matter. Simply stated, the facts of the article do not support the headline and your newspaper has improperly impugned Drexel's reputation.

The situation at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey is not a Drexel story. It is not related to any actions at Drexel by James Archibald, senior vice president for health sciences, or any of the former UMDNJ employees hired. I should not have to make this clear, except that your article was misleading. The financial management of Drexel University is beyond reproach.

Drexel began operating the College of Medicine in 1998 with the support of Gov. Ridge and Mayor Rendell after the catastrophic Allegheny bankruptcy, saving 13,000 jobs and an irreplaceable medical resource. The college today is strong both financially and academically, earning the highest possible evaluation from its accrediting body and attracting a high caliber of applicants.

As long as your readers know the facts, they will understand that Drexel's reputation as one of the most successful and respected universities in the nation is unassailable. We are owed an apology and a retraction.
Note that Jacovini did not dispute the facts about Archibald, or any other administrators from UMDNJ who were hired by Drexel, that appeared in the original Philadelphia Inquirer story. The concerns I raised above were not about the financial management of Drexel, but about Archibald's alleged involvement with a no-bid contract at UMDNJ, and the protests against him by Drexel Department chairs based on his lack of any direct health care experience or credentials, which they apparently felt were not appropriate for a Vice President for Health Sciences, to whom the Dean of the Medical School and all faculty reported.

Note further that Jacovini, the Chairman of the Dillworth Paxson law firm, is also on the board of directors of Corcell, a health care corporation that provides cord blood stem cell banking services.


em said...

Interesting post. I actually live down the street from a UMDNJ exec. I know she's sweating it, and I feel bad for her, but really, what in the world were they thinking?

Anonymous said...

Those living in Philadelphia, and working in or around Drexel Med, know that this barely scratches the surface. There will, without a doubt, be more above-the-fold reports in the Philly newspapers, regarding this sad little drama.

Best that can be said about it is that it doesn't seem to have touched, much less demoralized, the medical students. (Yet.) Unlike the Allegheny fiasco, which did, unfortunately, have very much that effect.

Anonymous said...

For the dedicated educators, clinicians and researchers who lived through the nation's worst medical school disaster in decades, we can only hope that facts, not rumors rule the blogs and newspapers. Through Drexel leadership, the medical school just finished an outstanding LCME review, a very good match, outstanding board scores and fiscal solvency. Continuing to mention Allegheny nearly ten years after the bankruptcy is not helpful. We are now DrexelMed and very proud of it.

Roy M. Poses MD said...

Re the last, very carefully worded comment that defended the Drexel leadership: remember the famous quote by George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" Saying Drexel has gone beyond the problems of the past is one thing. Denying those problems is another.
Note that we who write for this blog depend on the media, the clinical and health care literature, and certain cases, data found on reliable web-sites for our information. We then comment on this publicly available information. If better information comes along, we are willing to revise our comments. If the anonymous commentator has objections to the news reporting that formed the basis for our post, perhaps he, she, or they should make them known.
Congratulations to the Drexel faculty, health professionals, and students who are obviously most responsible for most of these good results the school has shown lately.
How much credit the leadership, and in particular, those in the leadership without clinical training or experience, deserve for these results remains to be seen.