WSU maps strategy to close $29M medical school deficit

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Wayne State officials said Friday that the university can shrink a $29 million deficit in the medical school and its affiliates by getting patients in to see WSU doctors sooner, among other approaches.

The deficit, recently made public, is spread between the Wayne State University Physician Group, the Fund for Medical Research and Education, and the Wayne State medical school. It is 5 percent of the three entities’ $600 million budget and will take about three years to eliminate.

But the issue is critical because the medical school, physician group and medical research fund’s $665 million budget is the largest part of Wayne State – making up half the university and the two related entities’ $1.3 billion budget.

President M. Roy Wilson, a physician by training, said it’s important that the physicians group, the medical school and the hospitals are aligned and working toward the same goals.

“What the deficit shows is we are not working in tandem with each other,” said Wilson. “This gives us an opportunity to reorganize in a way we should’ve reorganized many years ago. We’ll become much better as a result.”

The deficit comes as WSU addresses an accreditation warning from the Liaison Committee for Medical Education, the accrediting body for 144 medical schools. The committee cited diversity and curriculum as areas Wayne State needs to improve at the medical school, which has 1,200 students.

Officials are still designing a plan to correct the deficit but it will include several strategies, said David S. Hefner, who was hired in July to be WSU’s vice president of health affairs. He’s charged with retooling education and care delivery resources for a radically different health care future.

One approach officials discussed is quicker patient appointments with WSU physicians.

Currently, patients can wait 10 days to two months to see a physician, depending on the specialty.

“We have people waiting to see us, we have to get them in quicker,” Hefner said. “That generates clinical revenues.”

Other ideas for eliminating the deficit include streamlining billing and collections and helping researchers land more and bigger grants (and drawing more of their salaries from the grants). WSU’s medical school brings in about $100 million in biomedical research funding annually, and about 10 percent of researchers’ salaries are covered by grant funding.

“We are at a lower rate than we would want,” Hefner said, “(we would) prefer to be at 25 percent.”

Hefner discovered the deficit after he created a common database for the medical school, physician group and medical research fund and discovered the losses occurring inside each.

Underlying causes include declining revenues on several fronts, outdated management systems and a lack of transparency and communication.

The faculty was made aware of it last month, when the university hosted a retreat with all of the school of medicine department chairs and administrators. Jack Sobel, dean of the medical school, sent an email to faculty afterward.

“This is a complex problem that occurred over a long period of time, and it will take time and effort to correct it,” Sobel wrote. “This is a difficult issue, but I view this as an opportunity to evolve with the complex and ever-changing health care landscape, and re-examine the way we do things and ensure we are following best practices.”