UMass Memorial crisis has several deep roots
Sunday, October 7, 2001
By Robert Z. Nemeth
Special to the Telegram & Gazette
A recent Sunday Telegram report on the earnings of financially strapped
UMass Memorial Health Care's top executives was an eyeopener.
While services are discontinued and hundreds
of employees are being laid off because of a budget crisis, the CEO of
the nonprofit hospital makes more than $850,000 in salary and benefits,
and the recently retired president earned more than $730,000. Even Senior
Vice President Michael J. Green, tainted by scandal because he had falsified
his academic credentials, pulls down more than $450,000.
UMass Memorial is the product of a merger
between the former Memorial Health Care Inc. and the clinical division
of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The Telegram & Gazette
promoted this partnership vigorously, both in print and by persuasion of
public officials, because we believed it was good for the community. An
editorial titled “The merger all want” (May 5, 1997) stated: “This merger
is essential because neither entity can continue to prosper, or even survive,
in today's increasingly competitive health care market without a partner.”
This is what I wrote in a column, “UMass Memorial
merger is vital to employees, region” which appeared in this space on April
13, 1997: “These two leading institutions, along with their affiliates
throughout Central Massachusetts, would form a unified health care powerhouse.
This partnership, reinforced by a jointly established research center,
would ensure Worcester's status as a health care hub, provide long-term
job security for thousands of employees and economic progress for the region.”
Sadly, all that turned out to be wishful thinking.
UMass Memorial has accumulated losses in excess of $50 million, important
services are being eliminated and as many as 1,000 employees may lose their
jobs. A Florida-based consulting firm was hired to help with the recovery.
Its recommendations have not been made public.
Much of the financial crisis is the result
of inadequate and unfair government reimbursements for the cost of health
care provided by hospitals. Consolidating overlapping functions after the
merger was a formidable challenge for leaders of the new entity who carefully
divided the top positions among themselves. But the problems of UMass Memorial
have deeper roots. They also grew from poor management, turf wars, costly
duplication and lack of strict oversight by trustees who blindly supported
every move management made. In a futile effort to compete with world-class
medical giants in Boston, UMass Memorial has over-extended itself. Now
its employees -- but evidently not the top executives -- are paying the
A series of easily avoidable scandals took
a heavy toll as well. Discord among the merger partners, evident from the
outset, worsened with time. The costly and woefully mishandled ouster of
Dr. William E. Meyers, the chief of surgery -- a clash largely driven by
huge egos and personal animosity -- was an ugly affair that left lasting
scars. The Green issue raised inescapable questions about management's
competence and sensitivity to ethics.
When it was revealed that Mr. Green misstated
his academic credentials, he was kept on, even though the clinical system
is tied to an academic institution in a partnership that demands integrity.
A subsequent “national search” reportedly failed to produce any candidate
capable matching Mr. Green's skills. As it turned out, even Mr. Green's
supposedly unique skills could not prevent UMass Memorial from drowning
in red ink. At the same time, for-profit Worcester Medical Center is evidently
It gives me no pleasure to make these comments
because, at one time, I was one of the believers and devoted much time
and energy to promoting the cause. Ironically, UMass Memorial higher-ups
who eagerly sought publicity in the early days now choose to blame the
press for their problems.
While I regret some of those enthusiastic
words I lavished on the merger in 1997, I still believe a viable UMass
Memorial is in the community's best interest. But there is this nagging
question: Do current management and trustees have what it takes to turn
around this troubled institution?
Dr. Franklin M. Loew
was one of the learned experts who testified before the City Council's
Health Committee on an order by the Board of Health to adjust the level
of fluoride in Worcester's water supply. He did so to balance the torrent
of misinformation, distortion and scare mongering offered by opponents.
(Among other outlandish claims, Deborah E. Moore charged that doctors and
dentists risk losing their professional licenses if they spoke out against
Here is what Dr.
Loew had to say:
“I speak as a lifelong
health educator in both veterinary and human medicine at places such as
John Hopkins, Tufts and Cornell universities, as president now of Worcester's
own little Becker College, and as a resident of the city. I find it dismaying
that we are even debating this issue.
drinking water is a proven public health practice, in the same league as
polio vaccination, vitamins A and D additions to milk and chlorination
of drinking water. Science is a process, not an occasional finding that
critics can wave. The medical, dental and scientific evidence showing the
health benefits of fluoride is clear. There is no controversy among knowledgeable
scientists, dentists and doctors.
“Is the Earth flat?
There are still some people who think so. Is fluoridation a communist plot?
There are apparently some who think so. Is fluoridation unsafe? There are
obviously some who think so. But fluoridation is safe and it is in the
interest of enlightened public health.”
Well said. Councilors
Dennis L. Irish and Juan Gomez voted in favor of fluoridation. I wasn't
surprised by Councilor Michael Perotto's “no” vote. We're in the midst
of an election season when some politicians cut a very small profile in
Robert Z. Nemeth's column appears regularly in the Sunday
Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.