Cerra reveals new plans for effective health center

Joel Sawyer

Academic Health Center Provost Frank Cerra unveiled a draft of new organizational structures for the health center Wednesday.
He spoke at a weekly meeting of faculty and staff members who are helping to plan dramatic changes in the health center, which includes the seven health care schools and the University Hospital and Clinic.
It is important to change the health center’s organization and operating process to replace the costly, burdensome and unresponsive system currently in place, Cerra said.
“The current operating process frequently gets in our way,” he said. “It is difficult to get things done … it doesn’t serve you efficiently and effectively, and I don’t think it provides sufficient leadership.”
Another high priority, Cerra said, is to hire people to fill the newly created positions of vice provost of research, vice provost of education, and executive director of clinical services.
Cerra said the reorganization effort is essential if the center wants to be one of the top-ranked health centers in the country. “I will not accept anything less than the top 10, and I would sure like us to be in the top five,” he said.
Financial troubles are pressuring the health center to change. State funding for medical research and education has decreased, and competition for research grants has intensified. In addition, University Hospital has seen patient loads steadily decline.
In an effort to increase the health center’s efficiency, effectiveness and accessibility, former Provost William Brody began a re-engineering process last June that seeks to fundamentally change the way the health center is structured.
After Brody stepped down in April to become president of Johns Hopkins University, Cerra became provost of the health center.
Cerra has continued the re-engineering process but said his plan differs from Brody’s. He said his plan is based on a cooperative partnership between faculty, staff, students and the community rather than on a centralized decision-making process.
Ultimately, authority will be delegated down from the Board of Regents, he said but added, “that has to occur in the context of collaborative decision-making process.”
Cerra also said it was important for faculty and staff members who are planning changes to the center to bring their varied design efforts together quickly. “We need, in the next four to six weeks, to get this under one tent, get it moving forward together,” he said.
But for many faculty members getting under the tent might not be such an easy process. Some wondered how the proposed organizational structure would solve the financial crisis within the center while also benefiting faculty.
Family Practice and Community Health Professor Carole Bland was concerned that the new provostal structure might siphon off resources from other areas of the health center. “How do you get people to buy into this when they know it is going to cut revenues?” she asked.
Cell biology and neuroanatomy professor David Hamilton asked what would happen if the organizational structure Cerra proposed was found to be faulty.
“If the structure is deemed no good after the consultative process,” Cerra said, “we will change it.”
Cerra said that later this month he will release comprehensive restructuring plans for the health center, including detailed timelines and objectives.