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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Broken Corrupt Record of Emory University

This is the main page of the U.S. Finance Committee's investigation entitled Aligning Incentives: The Case for Delivery System Reform. It is an ongoing investigation which Senator Chuck Grassley and Senator Max Baucas recently updated. It is an investigation that centers on a Professor Charless Nemeroff currently a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University. He was until recently the Dean of the Department. According to the findings currently published for years Nemeroff took money from firms like Cyberonics, Glaxo Smith Kline, and Pfizer. For this money he published favorable articles about many of their drugs. Rarely if ever did he disclose his financial relationship with these companies when he published these puff pieces. Furthermore, while accepted about $2.6 million in contributions from these pharmaceuticals, he only reported about $90,000 in contributions. As such, not only was he bought and paid for by the pharmaceutical industry for eight years, but he evaded paying taxes on most of these bribes.

In this letter from Senator Charles Grassley, Grassley details a web of fraud, tax evasion, and an utter failure to report repeated incidents of conflict of interest.

This is a copy of a chain of emails within the Medical Department of Emory University on July 20, 2006. In it, one of the Deans of the Medical School, Claudia Adkison, is corresponding back and forth between Nemeroff and her own superiors. She admits to attempting to cover up this egregious fraud. She even alludes to being thankful that a Wall Street Journal reporter wasn't

sophisticated enough to ask the right questions


in working on handling the reporter I tried to make this story go away because Emory's name is in the middle of it.


I am embarrassed and uncomfortable that I write to colleagues around the country to try to defend this when I know all the issues.

(I wonder what the right questions would have been)
More than one internal correspondence within Emory University show that the school was aware of the fraud going back as far as 2000. Only last month was Nemeroff finally removed from being the Dean of the Psyschiatry and Behavioral Science. He continues to be employed as a full and tenured professor making well over six figures. Nemeroff appears to have made $2.6 million in income from the cumulation of payments from all these drug companies in an eight year period. He only reported about $90,000 in fees.

To understand the total context of this story you need to go back to 2000 to another case involving Emory University. The National Institute Health approached then Professor Jim Murtaugh of the Pulmonology Department. Murtaugh began to blow the whistle on misuse of Federal NIH grant money. In July of 2001, Emory University and Jim Murtaugh entered into an agreement in which Emory University paid $1.6 million for his silence. Soon after that, docuements related to the NIH investigation began to disappear, and soon after that, the investigation was swept under the rug and went away.

In June of 2004, the Department of Health and Human Services approached Kevin Kuritzky, then a medical student at Emory University, about illegal and unethical activities at the V.A. Hospital Emory staffs and Grady Hospital, which Emory also staffs.

One night that is what happened. One time he was left in charge of the entire step down unitfrom 4 PM to 2AM. The first emergency came from one patient who was recovering from lung surgery. The patient's lung collapsed and Kevin was called in to save his life. The patient was suffocating and time was of the essence. Kevin was
panicked and needed to move quick. He needed to find a chest tube, but because of his own inexperience, he didn't know where they kept the chest tubes. In a rush, he did the only thing he could think of at the time. He grabbed the dirty chest tube that had already been used on the patient and injected into their lungs.

Next, Kevin was asked to read an x ray of the patient's lungs to determine if they were stable. This is again not something a medical student is supposed to do on their own and without supervision but since their was no supervision there wasn't much choice. Kevin gave it his best estimation and determined the patient was fine however as it turns out that was just a lucky guess. This patient survived but it had nothing to do with the type of care that was provided them at Grady.

In April of 2004, Kevin Kuritzky was expelled from Emory University 41 days prior to when he was scheduled to graduate. The reasons given related to a handful of tardiness by Kuritzky. The information that Kuritzky provided eventually lead to another investigation of Grady Hospital that concluded

the conditions at Grady Hospital pose an immediate and grave danger to the health and safety of the patients.

Nearly the entire staff of Grady Hospital is faculty and students from Emory University. Kuritzky described being left alone as a medical student without any supervision while he took care of an entire step down unit for days on end.

On top of this, Grady Hospital was also implicated when corruption there and beyond lead to the conviction on more than 130 counts by then State Senator Charles Walker.

The current investigation is both remarkable in the brazen manner in which the corruption is carried out and in the total lack of context that the investigators and the media place on it. It seems with each successive investigation no one from the media to the investigators seems to put two and two together. The common thread is Emory itself. In fact, most of the players remain the same. One player I haven't mentioned yet is Kent Alexander. Alexander is the lead Counsel of Emory University. He arrived just before the NIH approached Jim Murtaugh. Formerly, Alexander spent a great deal of time in the Federal Prosecutor's office, including eventually becoming the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia which included Emory University. In the link I provide a mention an email in which he asks his former colleagues to quash the investigation that Kuritzky was leading.

What we have in the current reincarnation of Emory corruption is ironically unremarkable. In fact, just in the last year, Emory has been embroiled in much bigger scandal than its current reincarnation with Nemeroff. At the end of last year, things got so bad at Grady Hospital, Emory University's Medical School's prize possession, that JCAHO, the governing body of hospitals, threatened to shut it down. Had it followed through Grady Hospital would have joined an exclusive club with one other hospital, King Drew in L.A. That hospital got shut down following the disclosure of a tape of a woman begging on the floor for forty five minutes, getting no help, and then dying. For reasons only known to JCAHO, Grady, and Emory after JCAHO threatened to shut down Grady JCAHO eventually dissipated the investigation and it went away. At the same time, Grady was begging everyone in the Atlanta area for dare I say a BAILOUT. They were in need of an infusion of $200 million or face potentially closing. This would have unleashed a medical disaster on the Atlanta area. Grady is not only one of the world's biggest hospitals it is the primary care facility for almost the entire indigent population in the area and provides the only trauma center for hundreds of miles.

As such, Grady was finally given a lifeline only that lifeline came from the Woodruff Foundation. This foundation is named for former Coca Cola CEO Robert Woodruff. Woodruff's name also graces an enormous amount of the buidings at Emory University. While there is no direct links between the Woodruff Foundation and Emory University many Emory faculty and administrators can also be found on the board of Woodruff. Grady has and continues to pay Emory University $50 million yearly in order to staff its hospital. After being infused with money, the hospital also created a 501(3)C board to oversea the hospital. Much of the board is made of folks from Emory and Woodruff and Pete Correll can be found on pretty much every board.

For real conflicts of interest we only need to look no further than Pam Stephenson. She is currently simultaneously a State Senator, Chairwoman of the Board of Grady, and it's interim CEO. As the head of the Board, she played a key role in securing herself the interim position of CEO. Furthermore, she was instrumental in the peculiar firing, after only seven months on the job, of Otis Story Jr, the previous CEO.

In other words, everything currently revealed in the case of Charles Nemeroff has been done by the powers that be at Emory University over and over and in much worse scenarios really. Just think about this. Charless Nemeroff received millions in unreported income. He failed to disclose cash payments while he wrote favorable articles in trade journals for companies that paid him routinely. He failed to disclose consistent conflicts of interest while he acted in much the same way as a hired gun for most of the pharmaceutical companies. For this, he was asked to step down from his post as Dean of his college. He didn't however lose his job entirely and continues to draw a six figure salary from Emory. Kevin Kuritzky was late to classes on a handful of occasions and he was kicked out of Medical School and deprived of a medical career entirely.

This is the proper context of this story. It is a story incidentally that has been reported, poorly I may add, in the New York Times, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and the Wall Street Journal. The Emory Wheel has dedicate all of four articles to the matter. This one commends Emory University for its handling of the situation and points out that the investigation is still ongoing which would mean it continues for a ninth year.

The reality is that this latest piece of brazen corruption is the latest in a long line of seeming never ending corruption at Emory University. Whistleblowers are routinely silenced. The media is incompetent, corrupt or both.

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