The University Record, April 23, 2001

Omenn updates Senate on Life Sciences, Health System

By Theresa Maddix

Gilbert Omenn, executive vice president for medical affairs, discussed three main topics in his Health System update April 16 at the Senate Assembly meeting. He spoke on the Life Sciences—the Institute, the Initiative and the Corridor; the status of clinical operations; and space and capacity.

“The whole interested community got to see and hear Scott Emr and Jack Dixon,” Omenn said, referring to the Life Sciences Insitute kickoff April 11. Dixon and Emr are co-directors of the Insitute. Omenn also lauded the undergraduate student statements at the kickoff ceremony and the murals made by high school students that will line the fence along Washtenaw Avenue at the Institute construction site. The event, Omenn said, “culminated in a panel discussion at the Museum of Art on medical care, ethics and genetics.” Such explorations, Omenn said, will allow “people to be much more empowered to make decisions in health care.”

Turning to the Life Sciences Initiative, Omenn spoke of plans to build the Biomedical Science Research Building (BSRB) on the medical campus. The building, Omenn said, will occupy the block of Zina Pitcher Place where a bank and party store previously stood. Creating the new facility also will require replacement of portions of the adjoining Kresge Medical Research Complex. Omenn noted that the construction will add to the area’s “aesthetics and safety” and that as a renovated food service building, the Kresge Complex was “never ideal for research.” The BSRB will be funded by the Health System.

The Corridor, Omenn said, is the third orbit of the Life Sciences. “We’ve reached out to our friends at Michigan State and Wayne State universities,” Omenn said, “who receive $36 million and $21 million annually in National Institutes of Health funding. Together we are a pretty formidable group.” The three schools petitioned Gov. John Engler when they first learned of the availability of tobacco lawsuit settlement money. Engler, Omenn said, first announced that all the funds would be spent on higher education for incoming college students in the state. Engler’s decision to use one-seventh of the money on the Corridor, Omenn said, was met with “strong bipartisan support.” The state very clearly sees the Corridor as a means to create a “more diversified economy,” Omenn said.

Turning to the status of clinical operations in the Health System, Omenn noted the rosy financial outlook for the hospital budget, M-Care’s financial stability, and the shortage of nursing and pharmacy students.

“As we enter into an economic dip,” Omenn said, “the pressure on costs will be intense.” He estimates that all University departments will experience an 11 percent increase in the cost of benefits for next year. “Overall,” Omenn said, “the hospital budget is on track this year.” He is “reasonably confident we will finish this year in the black.”

The financial health of the Health System is particularly good news, since it has had to absorb an increase in Medicaid patients who have been refused care by other area health providers until the state raises its reimbursement rates, and because another area health provider, Henry Ford Health System, is experiencing renewed financial problems. “We wouldn’t wish that on anybody,” Omenn noted.

“M-CARE is also in the black,” Omenn said, praising its executive director, Zelda Geyer-Sylvia.

When Omenn turned to work force projections, he described the process as “very awkward,” especially in examining the increasing shortage of nursing and pharmacy students. “Finding people to staff these very important professions is a challenge,” Omenn said. Students who traditionally were interested in nursing, Omenn asserted, are serving other roles. The Health System will continue campaigns in high schools and the media to try to reverse these trends.

“We are very worried about space in the Medical School,” Omenn said, citing another area of concern. “Our buildings are packed.” He hopes to develop plans for a new building for medical education. Omenn also stated the need to “build a replacement for the children’s hospital,” 32-year-old Mott Children’s Hospital.

Assembly Roundup

Lehman to continue as secretary

The Senate voted unanimously to have John Lehman, professor of biology and research scientist, Center for Great Lakes and Aquatic Sciences, continue as Senate secretary. Chair Mojtaba Navvab noted that in addition to serving as secretary, Lehman “keeps the historical perspective and is our archivist.”

2000–01 progress report issued

Navvab issued a summary analysis of common Senate Assembly deliberations and actions.

Navvab also asked that cases within the University where a grade was given and then later changed without the faculty member’s consent be brought to the Assembly’s attention. An Ann Arbor Campus Grading Policy Survey—in progress—was distributed at the meeting.

Faculty appeal procedures revisited

A motion was introduced that the “Chair of Senate Assembly request the Provost to form a joint faculty and administration committee . . . to draft a modification of the grievance procedures.”

The motion states, “There are many strong indications that faculty do not avail themselves of the procedures.”

Former Senate Chair Louis D’Alecy, professor of physiology, said the grievance procedure is “not working and it’s time for us to revisit it and to revisit its key features.”

Lacking a quorum, a straw vote was taken and passed. One member opposed, saying he did not feel he had enough information.