Dry Recruiting Lunches, Dry Seminar Dinners, No Holiday Parties: Bah, Humbug

Dry Recruiting Lunches, Dry Seminar Dinners, No Holiday Parties: Bah, Humbug


Leonard Zwelling

         The word has come from on high.

         No more alcohol is permitted during recruiting and speaker’s dinners. Contingent workers cannot be hired, nor can RFA appointments be made nor promotions sought. Visiting appointments and classified staff hiring is also on hold. And talk about being on hold, the cellphone allowance of $100 per month is gone. THAT sounds like fun! Not!

         Finally, the leadership of Anderson has realized that a positive margin given its huge fixed cost of buildings and people was simply not sustainable. Some of us have been saying this for years. The fact that Hillary Care never materialized and that massive cuts in medical insurance reimbursement had been staved off twenty years ago, allowed the profligate spending of the terminal years of the Mendelsohn Era and the entirety of the DePinho years not to catch up with the institution. It finally has.

         Anyone who knew anything about business would have known that Anderson was in a spiral of over spending and the slightest tip in revenues would cause a significant capsizing. It happened in 2008 when the Wall Street financial collapse negatively affected non-operating revenue (investment income) and the clinicians greatly increased their output to save the institution. Times have changed. EPIC has locked in slow patient care as was expected, although the $400M deficit figure seems excessive to blame solely on the EMR. There’s a lot more competition for cancer care in Houston now and I really cannot tell if the metastases of MD Anderson in Arizona, New Jersey and now San Antonio (does this make sense to you or is this just to please the Chancellor?) have really augmented revenues to the extent anticipated or simply diluted the brand.

         These menial steps being implemented by the administration now will mostly serve to aggravate the widening rift between that administration and the faculty and staff. Life will get harder if hiring that was planned does not take place and those leaving the institution are not replaced. Even one clinician leaving without a replacement is likely to hurt the bottom line not help it. And you cannot even offer a recruit a glass of wine. Soon all recruiting dinners will start with: “do you want fries with that?” and seminar speakers can supersize their entrees.

         Here’s some steps that the leadership could take that might not only save a few bucks, but actually improve the relationships between the faculty and the leadership:

1. Take a pay cut. Those guys and a few gals in leadership are making some very lofty salaries. Why? Their performance is clearly dreadful. Frankly I would follow Jackie Mason’s advice about Congress. Put the leaders on commission.

2. Stop traveling among the potentially high billers in the clinic and stop traveling yourself leaders.

3. No more construction. Period.

4. Ditch the TV ads.  They’re dreadful anyway. And they won’t attract more patients because they are obtuse and not patient friendly. Who are those people on the TV anyway?

5. Do a detailed analysis on the costs and benefits of EPIC. If it proves costly, ditch it. The money you have spent so far is a sunk cost anyway and can never be retrieved or recovered.

These are some ideas. I am sure that the faculty and staff have more. Have you asked them? Would you listen?

I thought the manner in which Dr. DePinho comported himself was troublesome from day 1. His narcissistic attitude about curing cancer, when not even a real oncologist, was an insult to the great clinical faculty of Anderson. The ethical missteps of conflict of interest, self-dealing, and nepotism were icing on the cake. Surely that would have gotten most people fired.

Now the institution is in the red with no good plan beyond nickel and diming the faculty to get out of that deficit.

What’s it going to take to change the leadership of Anderson? A failed bake sale?

         One thing we learned early in business school was “no money, no mission.” MD Anderson cannot make cancer history in the red—even with the red line through cancer. The color may be more a comment on the finances than on the clinical progress.

         If those folks are truly leaders, now would be a good time to show it through some self-sacrifice. Lead by example, and that does not include seizing more power by assuming the additional role of CFO, Mr. Fontaine. By the way, why did the last guy really leave?

2 thoughts on “Dry Recruiting Lunches, Dry Seminar Dinners, No Holiday Parties: Bah, Humbug”

  1. What MDA needs is a hurricane so they can get FEMA money to balance their books. NYU raked in $1.13B from FEMA after Hurricane Sandy, and now we are learning that some of that money was used to build three new buildings and expand the ER. Helps to have Chuck Schumer in your pocket. The other 6 NYC hospitals that were damaged by Sandy, including the public hospital Bellevue, which is right next door toNYU, got a combined total of $1.7B. So one hospital got 55% of all the FEMA money – and it's a private hospital to boot!

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