Thursday, December 02, 2010

Academic Medical Center Crime Wave?

Every large group or organization has a few bad apples.  My web searches constantly turn up stories of individuals working in health care who behave unethically or commit crimes.  I do not generally discuss these cases on Health Care Renewal, since they seem unavoidable, and their sporadic appearance does not necessarily have anything to do with systemic problems in health care.

However, in the last week, I noted four cases of rather exceptionally bad behavior by individuals working in large hospital systems, and the severity and proximity of these cases made me wonder if they reflect some new trend.

Pennsylvania State University Faculty Member Charged with Rape

As reported by,
Former Derry Township, Dauphin County, doctor Dr. Robert L. Yarwood stands accused of using his position and influence to addict two of his patients to painkillers and raping them multiple times.

Yarwood, 56, has been charged with more than 42 criminal counts, including rape and sexual assault, stemming from allegations made in 2008 by two women, ages 40 and 45.

He is accused of giving narcotics to the women to 'exert psychological force,' said Fran Chardo, Dauphin County first assistant district attorney.

'The case, speaking abstractly, is very disturbing because of the trust relationship between the patient and the doctor,' Chardo said. 'It’s a violation of trust.'

In an interview with The Patriot-News, one of the women said she had visited Yarwood several times over the course of a year. He was prescribing her pain medication, which she eventually became addicted to. Then, she said, he raped her. 'I was paralyzed. I was in shock,' she said. 'I trusted him.'

At the time of the allegations, Yarwood was an obstetrician and gynecologist at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, which he joined in the late 1990s. In August 2008, the medical center was apprised of the investigation and immediately suspended Yarwood from having contact with patients.

$5 Million Embezzlement from Columbia University Medical Center

As reported by the Wall Street Journal,
A 48-year-old Bronx man has been arrested and charged with grand larceny for allegedly stealing nearly $4.5 million from Columbia University over the course of two months, authorities said Monday.

George Castro is accused of adding a TD Bank account belonging to him as a payee in the Columbia University Medical Center's accounts payable system, netting payments of $3.4 million in October and $1 million in November, authorities said. Mr. Castro, whose relationship with the university is unclear, was arrested Wednesday.

A law-enforcement official familiar with the case said Mr. Castro had $200,000 in cash in his possession when he was arrested and had withdrawn $140,000 the day before his arrest. According to a criminal complaint, Mr. Castro told investigators the money 'just appeared' in his bank account and that he had gotten 'greedy.'

Duke Surgeon and Surgical Department Business Manager Accused of Embezzlement

As reported by,
A former Duke University surgeon and manager have been charged with stealing $267,000 from the university, police said Tuesday.

Dr. Eric Joel DeMaria, 51, of 1101 Tacketts Pond Drive in Raleigh, and John William Cotton, 39, of 7228 Loblolly Pine Drive in Raleigh, were each charged with embezzlement of more than $100,000. Cotton also was charged with obtaining property by false pretense.

Cotton was arrested last Wednesday, and DeMaria surrendered to police Tuesday morning. Both have been released on $25,000 bonds.

DeMaria was director of Duke's bariatric surgery program, while Cotton was a business manager in the surgical department at Duke University Hospital, according to Michael Schoenfeld, Duke's vice president for public affairs.

Office Worker Accused of Stealing $3.8 Million from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

As reported by the New York Post,
A former worker at Memorial Sloan-Kettering stole nearly $4 million from the cancer center in a massive scheme that involved ordering a boatload of unnecessary printer cartridges and reselling them, authorities said.

The loot from the elaborate scam was used to fund a lavish lifestyle that allowed $37,000-a-year receiving clerk Marque Gumbs to move from a Bronx housing project to a luxurious Trump high-rise in the suburbs.

Gumbs, 32 -- who was arraigned yesterday in Manhattan Criminal Court on charges of grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property -- allegedly began his scheme in 2004 by ordering extra toner cartridges and reselling them.

In one astounding stretch from October 2009 through August 2010, Gumbs ordered $1.2 million worth of toner that wasn't usable for any machine at the hospital, authorities said.

His alleged ruse cost the hospital $3.8 million.


So here is the box-score. Reported in one week were three alleged theft/ embezzlement schemes with values from $267,000 to $5 million, and one alleged series of multiple rapes. The alleged perpetrators included two academic physicians (one in surgery, one in obstetrics-gynecology), two hospital staff, one in management, and a person with an unclear relationship to the hospital. All involved large, prestigious academic medical centers.

So, again, maybe these were just coincidences. However, it may be that there is a real trend toward bigger and more spectacular thefts and embezzlements from big, not for profit health care institutions.  The most likely explanation is simply that the increasingly huge amounts of money flowing through such institutions attracts those who go to where the money is, and that the increased complexity of the bureaucracy of ever-growing health care institutions makes it easier to hide such thefts.  At least, this odd string of cases should prompt more questions about the conventional wisdom that it is good for health care organizations to grow ever larger. 

However, just to be speculative, note that three of these incidents occurred at institutions whose leadership has attracted our attention before.  We discussed conflicts of interest affecting one Columbia academic leader here, and the prevalence of leaders of failed financial services companies on the New York-Presbyterian board here.  We discussed a leader of two of the firms most involved in the global financial collapse who was also the chairman of the board of Duke University here.  A quick skim of Memorial Sloan-Kettering's Board of Overseers (in its 2009 annual report) showed the presence of at least two leaders of failed financial services firms heavily involved in the global financial collapse (E Stanley O'Neal, former CEO of Merrill Lynch, and Sanford I Weill, former CEO of Citigroup).  The speculation is that as academic medical centers and hospital systems and their parent universities have increasingly been recipients of the "stewardship," and hence immersed in the culture of the financial services industry, particularly firms which contributed to the global financial collapse, the culture of health care became increasingly laissez faire, anything goes, wild, wild west, and so it got easier for the wrong people to be hired, and for the wrong people to pull off truly spectacular capers.

I submit that the first criterion for being a trustee or director, and hence ostensibly a steward of an academic medical institution should be devotion to the mission of the organization, not size of one's contribution.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Per GruntDoc we learn Narcissistic Personality Disorder No Longer in D.S.M. –
It appears we have become a nation all about “me,” and any action I take are justified because, after all, the world is all about “me.” So all of these actions were justifiable since they were about satisfying a need of the people involved.

This speaks to the level we have sunk too in our thinking and actions.

Steve Lucas