Some say the incident in which the director of the National Institute of
Mental Health (NIMH) assured the University of Miami�s
medical school dean if he hired Charles Nemeroff, MD, the disgraced researcher,
Nemeroff could still pull in government grants is an example of the Old Boy�s
NIMH director Thomas
Insel, MD, assured Pascal Goldschmidt, MD, UM�s medical school
dean that Nemeroff�s congressional investigation for unreported drug industry
income and NIH�s termination of his
$9 million grant shouldn�t stop the government funding spigot -- even as
Insel personally revised NIMH�s �conflict of interest� rules.
(And even as Nemeroff serves on two NIH peer-review advisory panels that decide what? Who receives
presumably �owed� Nemeroff because the former head of psychiatry at Emory got Insel a gig there when he lost his NIH
position in 1994 and helped Insel�s comeback in 2002 as NIMH director, says the
Chronicle of Higher Learning. Nice revolving doors if you can catch them.
But others say it�s an
example of the Old Girl�s Network since it was UM President Donna Shalala,
former Health and Human Services
secretary, who allowed the hiring of the poster boy for conflicts of
interest without a job posting, national search, search committee or vote from
UM�s psychiatry faculty.
Nor was Sen. Charles
Grassely (R-Iowa), whose investigations found Nemeroff failed to disclose $1
million in drug industry income while doing �impartial� government research,
amused by a Goldschmidt quote in the Chronicle
that dismisses a freeze on Nemeroff-initiated grants at Emory as due to �political
found the tardive dyskinesia producing Abilify had �excellent� safety.)
While many dispute
Nemeroff�s character -- he did �science pimping for Paxil,� Bernard Carroll, MD,
former psychiatry head at Duke told the Miami Herald.
�I�m not sure if I�d
be around today if it weren�t for him,� Tom Johnson, former CNN network
president and a Nemeroff patient, also told the Herald.
Few dispute UM�s dire
To further Goldschmidt�s
ambition to make the University of Miami �a destination facility, attracting
patients from Latin America and the United States, just like Mayo and Cleveland
clinics,� according to the Herald, UM bought a private hospital, two new
research buildings and hired hundreds of new medical school faculty members in
a $1 billion spending binge some call shadowy. It bought Cedars Medical Center,
now University of Miami Hospital, from The Healthcare Company -- a firm
convicted of Medicare and Medicaid fraud in 2003 -- for $270 million though the
facility only earned $987,000 in profit during its last year. And there are questions
about double-billing the government for patients UM clinicians see at the
public Jackson Memorial Hospital swirl.
also oversees UM Behavioral Health�s multi-million dollar Medicaid contract
which embraces 900 providers, 30 hospitals and 100 community mental health
centers, despite his track record with Health and Human Services.
Meanwhile new faculty
recruits have left abruptly, major donors have rescinded gifts and morale at
the medical school is at an all time low.
Of course Nemeroff�s
hire as head of UM psychiatry looks like an unvarnished ploy to divert taxpayer
dollars from the $1.4 billion NIMH budget to a private institution, courtesy of
I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine cronyism. But it also raises questions
about how government officials trusted with public funds even got there.
�There has always been
some confusion . . . about whether Yerkes [Yerkes National Primate Research
Center] is part of Emory or part of the federal government,� Insel told Emory
magazine as he hop-scotched between the two employers with the help of his
buddy Nemeroff (doing Lord knows what to 3,400 primates.) �This is not in any
way, shape, or form a federal laboratory. . . . It is, from top to bottom, part
of Emory. Every brick, every animal in this place, is part of Emory University.�
No kidding. It is just
this �confusion� between public and private monies -- the Yerkes Center is NIH
funded, hello? -- that earned Nemeroff his ethical cloud and now Insel�s
support of him as UM financial savior.
Martha Rosenberg is a Chicago
columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.