Is The MD Anderson Financial Recovery True Or Fake News?


Leonard Zwelling

That’s a hard one.

First, it would seem easy to define true vs. fake information. But that no longer seems to be the case.

The President of the United States says that intelligence leaks are real, but the news about them is fake. That makes absolutely no sense, which is not at all atypical of this White House. But where does it leave the average American? What should we believe?

Second, what is the test of whether or not anything is real or fake?

With diamonds we know and with art and with music, but with news the distinction between what is true and false is often hard to discern and not uncommonly left to historians to sort out. For example, there is still controversy over whether or not FDR knew that Pearl Harbor was a target of the Japanese. Surely there are sufficient conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination to fill many books without absolute proof of who killed the president in Dallas or why. It took years to find out the identity of Deep Throat as the informant that kept Woodward and Bernstein on the path to undoing the Nixon crimes.

What is the truth is not at all obvious all of the time.

So is MD Anderson on a path to financial recovery after having lost hundreds of millions of dollars or not? It’s really hard to tell.

I have looked at the latest financials and for the life of me, I can’t figure out what should be obvious. Did the institution make money or didn’t it?

My suggestions on these issues are several.

First, who cares whether or not the revenue and expense numbers approximate those estimated previously, i.e., the budget numbers? What matters is now, not how precise were the estimates of yesterday. The fact that there was an almost 1000-person layoff shows how good the leadership was at estimating the costs and revenue going forward. Lousy. So why assign any importance to the fidelity with which the actual numbers match the budget? That’s, at best, self-congratulatory nonsense.

Second, how about presenting the data like the rest of the world does as a balance sheet, income statement, and statement of cash flows? If the leadership would do that, everyone could understand whether or not MD Anderson was in the black or the red for the previous month. If the leadership really has $2.8 billion in the bank, that would appear as an asset on the balance sheet. If not, then the asset column might be a tad smaller.

This shouldn’t be too hard to synthesize for any chief financial officer worth his salt.

The problem I keep having with the financials is that they appear to be a management tool based on the budget estimates made months ago. Who cares? The decisions need to be made on what is happening now using the budget estimates as a guideline at the most and perhaps not even that if they are so far off that a layoff was necessary.

Finally, who and when will someone be held accountable for this red ink which has now stretched from the prior fiscal year to the current one? When will an honest assessment be made of the financial status of MD Anderson and the reason for its apparent malaise? The recent Chancellor’s audit of the Oncology Expert Advisor Program suggests that not adhering to policy might have a lot to do with the financial shortfalls. (See Saturday’s Houston Chronicle and Friday’s Cancer Letter). What good are policies if you ignore them, even if you do “sleep with the president?”

One can argue about the value of any scientific project and surely the one Dr. Chin headed, which is now disbanded, has to be deemed a failure. But the pluses and minuses of the financial statement should be easy to ascertain. It shouldn’t require an audit. At MD Anderson, they are not easy to understand. That needs to change.

How much money did MD Anderson make or lose this year? Simple question. It should be given a simple truthful answer.

Leonard Zwelling