Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Ethically Challenged U of M Medical School Administration

The Daily editorializes on the continued sorry behavior, while OurCEO complains about the media:

Ethics Takes a Step Back

In August, the Medical School’s conflicts of interest task force submitted a 13-page draft of changes to the conflicts of interest policy that was considered groundbreaking.

Groundbreaking no more.

Last week, an unreleased report drafted by Medical School Dean Dr. Deborah Powell surfaced that “consolidated” the previous recommendations into a two-page draft with weaker recommendations.

Powell’s draft cuts essential recommendations like severing financial ties between industry and medical education programs.

The original task force also recommended that any financial ties between faculty and industry be disclosed, while Powell recommended lowering the school’s current $10,000 threshold for disclosure to $500. That’s more transparency — but with room for opacity. What’s the point?

A Minnesota Daily report illustrates faculty were left in the dark — despite their calls for feedback. The process simply needs more transparency and should not be headed by a soon-to-be exiting dean of the school, whom herself has been questioned on conflicts of interests with her position on the board of directors for PepsiCo and her appointment of the task force’s co-chairman Dr. Leo Furcht, who himself was disciplined in 2004 for violations of the school’s conflict of interest policy.

Powell’s recommendations are improved from current ethics policy. But they are not the groundbreaking, not to mention necessary, changes that the task force proposed in August.

The final report submitted to the Board of Regents in April should include the previous recommendations of the task force, not Powell’s — a person who has bungled ethics reform at the Medical School and hence should be taken off the second task force.

For the ins and outs of Dr. Powell's Pepsi service, please see the post by Dr. Roy Poses: "A Medical School Joins the Pepsi Generation."

"We just discussed a story from late 2006 about the Dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School joining the board of directors of PepsiAmerica."

"It turns out that this has been generating continuing controversy at the institution. This controversy has shed light on some serious misconceptions among medical school leaders about what service on the board of directors of a public, for-profit corporation entails."

"Each director of a public, for-profit corporation has fiduciary responsibility to the stock-holders of the company for the company's financial performance and general management."

From Monks RAG, Minow N. Corporate Governance, Third Edition. Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. P. 195.

"Members of the board are not simply advisors. The notion that Powell's main role on the board is to provide "knowledge about obesity," or to be "a voice for nutrition" is naive at best. Powell is supposed to protect the stock-holders financial interests. If PepsiAmerica wanted Powell to provide advice about obesity or nutrition, it could have hired her as a consultant or put her on a scientific advisory board."

"As long as academic health leaders remain on the board of corporations, which are, unlike PepsiAmerica, directly involved in health care, (e.g., pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, managed care, and contract research corporations), questions will be raised about conflicts between the obligations of their day jobs and the fiduciary responsibilities entailed by their board memberships."

Time to wake up, everyone? OurCEO, OurProvost? Medical school ethics is not an oxymoron.

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