Monday, June 05, 2006

Another UMDNJ Leader Fired

After another brief hiatus, UMDNJ is back in the news 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 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.)

Our most recent post about UMDNJ was about a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raid on the university's School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, NJ responding to a tip that papers related to the school's relationship to New Jersey state Senator Wayne Bryant (D-Camden) were being shredded in the office of Bryant's political ally, Warren Wallace, the senior associate dean for academic and student affairs at the osteopathic school.

The redoubtable Newark Star-Ledger reported Friday the firing of Dean Wallace. Today, the paper reported on the federal monitor's findings that lead to the firing. These included:

Wallace, whose responsibilities include admissions, worked behind the scenes to get his daughter into medical school. The report says that in a highly unusual decision, the university granted her an interview even though she had failed to submit test scores and other information critical to admission. According to those who have been briefed on the report, his daughter's application did not include the Medical College Aptitude Test scores every medical student must take, letters of recommendation or her required essays on why she should be accepted. Some members of the admissions committee were upset she was even granted an interview. But two members of the school's admissions committee, who acknowledged being contacted beforehand by Wallace, gave her the highest possible interview score.

Records show Wallace interceded to help a friend and neighbor obtain a no-bid contract to provide exclusive cafeteria and catering services for the campus in Stratford worth more than $300,000 over the past three years. The report says Wallace received free meals from the catering service.

Wallace submitted nearly $3,000 in travel expenses through subordinates, who put in for petty cash reimbursements that then were handed over to Wallace. The scheme allowed him to sign off on his own expenses.

Computer files in his office reveal Wallace -- who is also a Gloucester County freeholder and chairman of the Delaware River and Bay Authority -- conducted extensive amounts of outside business while at UMDNJ.
Wallace now is just the latest in a series of UMDNJ leaders who have been forced out, including the former UMDNJ President, former Chair of the UMDNJ board of trustees, and the Dean of the School of Osteopathy.

[ADDENDUM (June 6, 2006): The report is out, and in it, according to the New York Times, federal monitor Herbert J Stern called Mr Wallace's activities "unethical at a minimum." Furthermore, the new chair of the UMDNJ board, Robert J DelTufo, called his behavior "ethically unsavory." And a UMDNJ spokeswoman said, "Dr Wallace's interference with the admissions process was unethical and unacceptable." The Newark Star-Ledger reported that New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine said, "I think it's time for Mr. Wallace to step aside from public life." And the Gloucester County Times revealed the report "states that before a May 15 admissions committee meeting, staff was directed by Wallace to announce to the committee that his daughter was a candidate and that upon acceptance would be interviewed by a member of the faculty who reports to Wallace." After the report was made publich, she withdrew her medical school application.]

As this scandal lurches from one lurid revelation to another, I wonder how difficult it must be for the many honest and hard-working faculty, students, and staff at the institution who continue to fulfill the university's mission, the same mission that was seemingly abandoned by too many of the university's former top leaders.
Perhaps the hope that the university will learn something collectively from this awful experience, and may emerge from this experience as a strong and honest institution again.

We can only hope that the health care community as a whole might learn something from UMDNJ's nightmare. Of course, the community will not learn a thing if it never hears about the story at all.

Thus, the continued envelopment of the UMDNJ story in the anechoic effect remains distressing. I have just searched using PubMed, Google Scholar, and Google, and found absolutely not a single reference to UMDNJ's recent travails in any medical, health care, or health policy journal. The closest my search came was an article in the Spring issue of the Rhode Island American College of Physicians Governor's Newsletter, an article that I wrote.

One of the regular readers of Health Care Renewal suggested that it was frustrating to read so many postings about dreary goings on in health care unleavened by constructive suggestions about what could be done to improve things. Trying to suggest how to fix everything that has gone wrong with the leadership of UMDNJ may not be the place to start. But, instead, let me try this:

for the health care professionals reading this, how about writing the editor of your favorite general medical or health care journal, and ask why they have not discussed what has gone wrong at UMDNJ, and what the health care community can learn from these events.

[I would be happy to see others' constructive suggestions in the comments section.]

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