An independent review of the University of Arizona’s two medical schools, which has not been released to the public, cost the state nearly $180,000 in public money.
And the former dean of the UA College of Medicine Phoenix, whose departure in part prompted the review, says he was never interviewed for the report.
The Arizona Board of Regents says it has paid the law firm Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP $179,653 as of Nov. 16 for its report on the UA Colleges of Medicine. The Board of Regents is the governing body for the state’s public university system.
After a special meeting in August, the regents announced they would hire an outside expert to review concerns about the medical schools.
The regents held the August meeting due to increasing scrutiny of the medical schools and their leadership. Governance of the UA’s two medical schools, which are separately accredited, ultimately falls under UA senior vice president of health sciences Dr. Joe G.N. “Skip” Garcia and UA President Ann Weaver Hart.
Garcia, who reports directly to Hart, oversees all of the UA’s health colleges — the UA College of Medicine-Tucson, the UA College of Medicine-Phoenix, the UA College of Pharmacy, the UA College of Nursing and the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.
Public criticism of the UA medical school leadership began after well-regarded UA College of Medicine-Phoenix dean Stuart D. Flynn announced he was leaving in March to be the founding dean of a new medical school in Texas. Shortly after, five members of Flynn’s leadership team, including the associate dean of admissions and the vice dean of academic affairs, announced their departures.
In June, the 4,000-member Arizona Medical Association, which has a membership of physicians and medical students, called for an independent investigation into why virtually the entire leadership team left the Phoenix medical school.
The association also expressed concern that the departure of so many top leaders could affect the school’s attempt to see full accreditation, a process that is ongoing.
The association asked for exit interviews with the departed deans and publicly called on the Board of Regents to initiate an investigation into “any U of A organizational impediments or policies that contributed to the departures of the well-respected and quality team that was in place.”
As further fuel to the scrutiny, Garcia, who earns a salary of $870,000, attracted public attention in August when he was the subject of an Arizona Republic article. The article focused on his travel expenses, including a chauffeured car that costs $475 or more for trips between Tucson and Phoenix.
During the special regents meeting in August, regents President Eileen Klein referred to troubling “questions and claims” about the medical school leadership, regarding ethics, use of public money, workplace culture and treatment of employees.
“The board and university leaders will need to go beyond these public hearings and take additional actions to better understand and address these concerns and determine whether any improprieties have occurred,” she said at the time.
On Aug. 19, the regents held an executive session and afterward announced they would hire an outside expert to review the concerns.
“It’s going to be a broad look at what’s going on,” regents chairman Greg Patterson said at the time. “We’re doing a comprehensive evaluation, so it’s going to be full 360s of management style, structure, etc.”
On Oct. 26, the regents spent more than two hours behind closed doors to discuss the report. They then announced that the report was complete and that no further inquiry into the medical schools’ leadership was needed. Citing “attorney-client privilege,” Patterson said the report would not be released to the public.
The regents have now released the cost of the report and provided the Star with documents outlining the contract terms.
Flynn, the departed dean, says he was not interviewed for the report. He said he was approached by an attorney but before answering any questions he asked for indemnity, which means he wanted to be protected against being sued over anything he might say.
“I was contacted by the attorney conducting the interview, as were several of my colleagues. I told him we would be happy to answer any questions they had, but we also asked if the Regents would indemnify us so that we would not put ourselves at risk,” Flynn wrote in an emailed statement.
“We never heard back on this request, or again from the attorney, so I can only assume that they did not want to offer us that protection.”
Many say the loss of Flynn was huge for the fledgling Phoenix medical school, part of a growing biomedical campus in the city’s downtown. Supporters of the medical school want both answers and assurances of the UA’s commitment, particularly given Arizona’s current and projected doctor shortage.
Releasing the regents’ report, even a redacted version, is a matter of public interest, said Cary Pfeffer, a Phoenix resident, author and owner of a consulting firm who sat on a community advisory board to the Phoenix medical school for several years.
“If you are going to spend almost $200,000 on a report, there must be some public good, one would assume. ... It’s critical for the state to have medical education,” Pfeffer said. “There are ways to protect confidential information, such as redacting names.”