Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Season of Turmoil

Katie Thomas and Charles Ornstein in The New York Times:

Hundreds of doctors packed an auditorium at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on Oct. 1, deeply angered by revelations that the hospital’s top medical officer and other leaders had cultivated lucrative relationships with for-profit companies. One by one, they stood up to challenge the stewardship of their beloved institution, often to emotional applause. Some speakers accused their leaders of letting the quest to make more money undermine the hospital’s mission. Others bemoaned a rigid, hierarchical management that had left them feeling they had no real voice in the hospital’s direction. “Slowly, I’ve seen more and more of the higher-up meetings happening with people who are dressed up in suits as opposed to white coats,” said Dr. Viviane Tabar, chairwoman of the neurosurgery department. “The corporatization of this institution is clear to many of us who have been here a long time,” said Dr. Carol L. Brown, a gynecologic cancer surgeon, according to an audio recording of the meeting. The meeting ended after several doctors advocated an immediate no-confidence vote in the hospital’s senior leadership. The turmoil followed reports by The New York Times and ProPublica that the hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. José Baselga, had been paid millions by drug and health care companies and failed to disclose those ties more than 100 times in medical journals, and that hospital insiders had made lucrative side deals that stood to earn them handsome profits, sometimes for work they had done on the job.

…Tensions among doctors at the hospital over conflicts of interests mounted through September. On Sept. 28, Colin Begg, the chairman of its department of epidemiology and biostatistics, wrote other department heads. “The key substantive issue is that the problems we face were not caused by failures to disclose conflicts. The problems were due to the conflicts themselves,” he wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by The Times and ProPublica. Referring to Dr. Thompson and Douglas A. Warner III, the outgoing chairman of the hospital’s board of managers and overseers, who is known as Sandy, he said, “As far as I can tell neither Sandy nor Craig understand this very basic point. And if you don’t recognize that a problem exists there is no chance you will solve it.”

He also said, “Making billions is not our mission. M.S.K. is a nonprofit with a fundamentally social mission.”

More here.