At cost-ridden UW dental school, deficit now totals $ 35 million

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The dean of the school said he foresees a drastic change. Privately, some professors say the administration is not focusing on the biggest problem: the 6-year-old Pediatric Dentistry Center, which is losing the most money.

Almost a year after the University of Washington drew up a financial turnaround plan for the deficit school of dentistry, the school’s red ink has grown an additional $ 6 million and now totals $ 35 million .

In an attempt to fill the gap, the school freezes reserves and most staff hires, as well as travel and expenses for lectures, food and drink. He checked his books and hired a controller to monitor expenses.

Dental school dean Joel Berg said he plans to revamp the school. “This has to change drastically,” he said.

Privately, some professors say the administration is not focusing on the school’s biggest problem: the 6-year-old Pediatric Dentistry Center on Sand Point Way, which is losing the most money.

But Berg and UW Provost Jerry Baldasty, who oversees the deficit problem, say the problem goes beyond this one clinic. Berg says the school’s financial situation is getting worse because it has 15 different entities that manage the $ 35 million a year budget. These entities are made up of eight different departments, including pediatric dentistry, endodontics, oral medicine and oral surgery.

“There are many aspects that are very fragmented,” he said.

Berg has disagreed with some faculty members since last year, when the faculty rejected the financial stability plan and raised concerns about the quality of the school’s management.

Faculty members argued that the Sand Point pediatric dentistry center, which opened in September 2010, was based on overly optimistic estimates of the number of patients who would use the facility. Its goal is to serve low-income patients, but also insured and paying patients.

Eighty percent of the pediatric center’s patients and 50 percent of the patients at its adult clinic are on Medicaid, which does not fully cover the cost of patient care.

Baldasty said the School of Dentistry as a whole provides “a tremendous amount of unpaid and undercompensated care.” In fiscal 2015 alone, he said, the school provided $ 1.7 million in unpaid care and $ 5 million in undercompensated care – the difference between the amount Medicaid paid. and what it cost the dental school to provide the care.

“It’s a safety net for a lot of people who have nowhere to go,” Baldasty said. “This is one of the major problems.

At a board meeting on Thursday, UW president Ana Mari Cauce echoed the sentiment. “At some point we have to have a very difficult conversation through the university about what we can do, because in many ways we have become the safety net of the state,” she said. . The matter has been referred to the Board of Regents for brief consideration.

When the deficit first appeared, Berg said he was focusing on bringing more paying patients to dental clinics. Last week he said there had been some success, although he did not give details.

Additionally, he said he was working on a plan to increase the repayment rate. Medicaid, a federal program, is administered by the state, so “there are opportunities” to try to influence the rate, he said.

In addition to the $ 35 million deficit, the school owes about $ 20 million towards the cost of renovating the Sand Point center. Berg said the school is contributing about $ 800,000 each year to UW’s internal loan program for this renovation.

Berg says the deficit dates back to 2007. Budget figures obtained by the Seattle Times seem to show that the situation worsened after 2011, shortly after the Center for Pediatric Dentistry opened.

In 2015, records show that about half of the school’s departments were losing money, including endodontics, oral medicine, oral surgery, and pediatric dentistry. But pediatric dentistry had by far the largest deficit, totaling around $ 15 million that year. The other departments of the school had modest surpluses.

In an email to Berg in February 2014, former UW senior vice president for planning and management, Paul Jenny, wrote: “In the first six months of fiscal 2014, this deficit clinical budgets increased by over $ 2 million to reach $ 17,518,347. When you met with my staff about deficits, you detailed a number of steps you are taking to get this under control and said you would at least “stop the bleeding” during this exercise. It doesn’t seem to be happening.

Several internal audits revealed various internal control issues. Last year, an audit found inadequate monitoring of clinic finances, a lack of reconciliation for some expenses, and non-adherence to UW acquisition card practices.

And in a letter to the school’s faculty last month, Baldasty wrote: “In many cases, the lack of tax audits contributes to increasing clinical deficits.

Berg was in the running for dean of the University of California Los Angeles School of Dentistry last year. He said he was recruited for the job.

“I don’t want to leave Seattle,” he said. “I’m glad it never worked.” He is now being considered for an extension of his contract here at UW.


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