Accrediting body ends UMDNJ probation

March 18, 2008 7:08:39 PM PDT
New Jersey's huge health sciences university has been taken off probation and gotten its accreditation back. The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey said Tuesday that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education has restored its accreditation.

The Newark-based university had been on probation since June 2006 amid a federal monitor's probe of widespread waste, fraud and abuse.

The commission's vice chairman, Michael F. Middaugh, wrote that it was restoring accreditation "because of progress to date" and evidence the university can make appropriate improvements in a reasonable time.

The decision was announced at a meeting of the university's board of trustees by university President Dr. William F. Owen Jr.

In a statement, he called it "a tremendous vote of confidence for the great work done each day by the faculty and staff of UMDNJ."

The university noted it has made numerous reforms, including creating a new office of ethics and compliance and board committees to oversee areas such as governance and ethics, tripling the size of the board of trustees to include people from outside academia and hiring a new president and general counsel. It also has developed purchasing policies based on competitive bidding and adopted a comprehensive whistleblower policy to protect workers who report wrongdoing.

Still, the commission is requiring a new monitoring report in October 2009, giving an update on progress in areas including university leadership, oversight and control, and financial concerns previously identified by the commission. Another update, called a periodic review report, is due on June 1, 2012.

In January, a federal monitor who spent two years investigating UMDNJ wrote in his final report that "the Office of Ethics and Compliance requires significant improvement." The monitor then noted that the university had taken steps to rectify his concerns until a "strong, experienced" chief ethics and compliance officer can be hired.

Former federal judge Herbert J. Stern ended his oversight of the university on Dec. 31. His monitorship was implemented under a deferred prosecution agreement after it was discovered that UMDNJ double-billed for services under Medicare. Stern found more than $400 million in waste, fraud and abuse.

Other findings led to a criminal investigation into whether cardiologists hired by the university were paid to refer patients to a cardiac surgery program with an unacceptably high mortality rate. Last month, two cardiologists pleaded guilty to embezzlement after reaping a total of $840,000 through no-show jobs that involved referring cardiac patients to UMDNJ.

The investigation also snared state Sen. Wayne Bryant, D-Camden, who awaits trial on charges he funneled millions in state funds to UMDNJ in exchange for a no-show job that padded his pension.

UMDNJ has more than 5,700 students in three medical schools and five other health profession schools on four main campuses across the state.

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