Forum evokes apathetic response

Joel Sawyer

Academic Health Center Provost Frank Cerra revealed little new information about the center’s reorganization efforts Wednesday at a town hall meeting for students, staff and faculty members in Mayo Auditorium.
Laurel Mallon, development director for the School of Nursing and the School of Pharmacy, said she was surprised by the low turnout of about 100, and noted that the half-full auditorium was full at the last meeting in April. Mallon said the low audience participation was probably because of a lack of new information. “People weren’t surprised by anything,” she said.
She added that the reorganization process involves complex issues and has moved slowly, perhaps dulling faculty enthusiasm. “You can only bite off and chew one bit at a time,” she said.
Biochemistry professor Brian Van Ness came to the meeting looking for answers about how changes in the center would be prioritized. “Dr. Cerra gives a good talk,” he said, but added that he was wary of the lack of details in Cerra’s plans.
The health center, which includes the University’s seven health care schools and the University Hospital and Clinics, is in the middle of a reorganizational effort that former Provost William Brody began in June 1995.
Financial troubles are pressuring the center to make profound structural changes aimed at increasing its efficiency and effectiveness. State and federal funding for medical research and education has decreased, and competition for research grants has intensified, Cerra said. He noted that University Hospital and Clinics has steadily seen its patient population decrease in recent years.
Not only does a lack of patients lower the center’s revenues, he said, it also endangers the center’s mission to provide a first-class education and serve as a premier research and development facility. University Hospital is on the verge “of not having enough patients to meet our education and research commitments,” he said, and added, “If we don’t change it, we close it.”
Cerra reiterated his view that health center staff members will continue to play an important role as the reorganization process continues.
Although the response to the presentation was generally unenthusiastic, the audience did applaud loudly to Cerra’s confirmation that CSC Index, a management consulting firm brought in by Brody to oversee the reorganization process, would finish their work by the end of June. By that time, he said, “we will be well on our way to having set up the internal ownership and control of this process.”
However, Cerra said he reserved the right “to use and retain any individual, on an as-needed basis, to help me complete the internal process of ownership.”
Cerra said he will discuss how the center will be organized and operate in the future when he reveals more details of his plan at a town hall meeting Wednesday.