Thursday, January 29, 2009

Shakeup at the University of Minnesota Medical School
and the Academic Health Center

From MPR:

U of M medical school reorganizes; Dean out by summer

A reorganization is shaking up the leadership at the University of Minnesota's Medical School. The current dean will step aside this summer as her job is absorbed into another position. University officials say it's part of an effort to save money. The reorganization comes after criticism of the dean's efforts at preventing conflict of interest at the medical school.

St. Paul, Minn. — The reorganization plan was announced in a memo from U of M President Robert Bruininks to the school's Board of Regents. The memo, obtained by MPR news, outlines a plan to combine leadership positions at the medical school and the University's Academic Health Center on July 1st.

Deborah Powell's position as the U's medical school dean will be merged with the senior vice president for Academic Health Services. That job is currently filled by Frank Cerra.

After a summer transition period, a search will begin to fill that new leadership role in the fall.

Calls to the medical school and to Bruinicks were directed to University spokesman Dan Wolter.

"The goal here is to first and foremost to consolidate and strengthen leadership in the medical school and to achieve cost savings."

The move is not based on Powell's performance as dean, Wolter said.

"Dean Powell has been a strong and effective leader at the medical school and she will stay with us in a role in a role of medical education."

[Sure, Dan, whatever you say...]

Some were critical of Powell when in 2006, she accepted a paid position on Pepsi's corporate board. Those critics said it was a conflict of interest for the dean to sit on the board of a company that produces products that are linked to health problems like obesity and tooth decay. Powell defended her position and said it was a chance to have her voice heard by the leadership of the company.

[A member of the board of directors of a company has a fiduciary responsibility to help that company make money - not to have her voice heard ... She was paid approximately $130 K for this service in 2007.]

In 2007, Dean Powell formed a task force to revamp the medical school's conflict of interest policy. That policy governs interaction between the U's doctors and researchers and medical companies.

Some task force members said proposed changes to the policy didn't go far enough in preventing conflict of interest.

Powell faced more criticism late last year after the Star Tribune reported task force co-chair Dr. Leo Furcht was reprimanded in 2004 by Dean Powell herself for violating the school's conflict of interest policy. That policy is still being developed and has not been released.

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