2 top med officials to leave Wayne State

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Two leaders of the Wayne State University School of Medicine will transition out of their roles later this year and the university will combine their posts into one position, President M. Roy Wilson has announced.

David Hefner, Wayne State’s vice president of health affairs, left, and Jack Sobel, dean of the university’s School of Medicine, will step down from their posts.

Medical School Dean Jack Sobel and Vice President of Health Affairs David Hefner are leaving their posts, and Wilson has decided to hire one person to serve as vice president for health affairs and dean of the school of medicine, the president said in a letter Wednesday to medical school, nursing, pharmacy and health sciences faculty.

Wilson said Sobel, 77, and Hefner, 64, had led the university over the past few years during a "time of tremendous growth and transition for our Health Sciences." 

"In the School of Medicine in particular, great progress has been made in a number of critical areas," Wilson wrote. "Financial integrity and stability have been restored, curriculum and clinical opportunities for our students have been improved and strengthened, and there have been great strides in our research program and external partnerships." 

Sobel and Hefner have extended their time at WSU to deal with numerous issues, Wilson said.

Reached Thursday, Hefner said, "This was a planned transition. I'll be glad to comment later as things unfold."

Sobel did not immediately respond Thursday to a phone message seeking comment.

Hefner joined Wayne State in June 2015 on a limited-time contract.

Sobel became interim medical school dean in November 2014, then the permanent dean in June 2015. According to a biography on WSU's website, he is a board-certified internal medicine specialist and infectious disease specialist.

During Sobel and Hefner's tenure, they grappled with numerous issues in the medical school including a $29 million deficit and a citation in 2015 from the Liaison Committee for Medical Education, which said WSU needed to improve its diversity and 11 other areas in the medical school.

The following year, the university dramatically increased the number of minority students in its incoming medical school class.

In 2016, Sobel announced the medical school would pare down more than three dozen  faculty members through retirements, contract nonrenewals or dismissal due to underproductivity.

The same year, the Wayne State University Physician Group reached an 18-month contract to continue providing services to the Detroit Medical Center after tense negotiations.

Soon after, Sobel clashed with officials at the DMC, the region's largest hospital system, saying its contributions to the university were so nominal that WSU would look to other hospital partners to achieve its plan for regional health care.

When the contract expired in 2018, negotiations were contentious again, threatening to end a 100-year partnership. The standoff ended in May when the WSU Physician Group and DMC agreed to a six-month contract extension. A five-year contract was struck in August 2018.

A month later, in September 2018, Wayne State and Henry Ford Health System announced the signing of a letter of intent to expand their long-term partnership 

Wilson hailed the work of Sobel and Hefner.

"Their contributions have had a profound and positive impact on the University, and have laid the groundwork for the future of the School of Medicine," Wilson said.

A search will begin soon, Wilson said in his letter, to fill the merged position. The search committee will be co-chaired by Wayne State's Dr. Steve Lanier and a member of the senior leadership of Henry Ford Health System. It will include representatives from Wayne State's Health Sciences schools and colleges and the Henry Ford Health System.

"Our goal will be to attract and recruit a physician executive with the knowledge and expertise to lead us forward over the next 5-10 years in these critical areas for the University," Wilson said.