JACKSON — Displeasure over how contracting was managed at the University of Mississippi Medical Center was the key reason trustees gave earlier this year when they refused to renew the contract of University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones.
Less than six months after the struggle over reappointing Jones, the medical center appears to be making some progress in satisfying demands for reform, but College Board trustee Doug Rouse of Hattiesburg said the effort remains incomplete.
“I think both the board and the medical center realize there’s still work to be done,” said Rouse, an orthopedist who chairs the board’s Health Affairs Committee.
The dispute over Jones shined a light on longstanding trustee discontent with how the medical center spent its money, even as it grew to a 10,000 employee operation with a $1.4 billion annual budget. That’s nearly 40 percent of the entire budget for Mississippi’s eight public universities.
Board members ordered an accounting review, which recounted numerous examples of the medical center violating trustee policy calling for all contracts worth more than $250,000 to be voted on by the board. There were also claims that the medical center violated state purchasing laws. UMMC officials said that the situation improved dramatically after they created a central contracting office in 2010, taking contracting power out of the hands of individual departments. Medical center officials also said new software helped them begin managing contracts better.
Trustees said they weren’t satisfied that Jones was placing a high enough priority on their concerns or making fast enough progress. UMMC Vice Chancellor LouAnn Woodward is “committed to addressing these issues,” Rouse said, a statement she echoed.
“I want the board to feel informed and have confidence,” said Woodward, who said she spends “a lot of my time” on contracting issues and board communication.
Since March, a lawyer and management consultants have reviewed UMMC’s situation. In June, the consulting firm of Grant Thornton LLP presented a report to the board that suggested a further automation of the contracting process, a software upgrade, more efforts to explain how UMMC is using its electronic health records program, on which it has spent more than $90 million.
Trustees remain deeply involved in UMMC’s affairs, with dozens of performance indicators being presented to the board each month. That’s a much greater level of scrutiny than other institutions receive. Rouse said the scrutiny may not last forever, but said he believed it’s appropriate for now.
“We’re not trying to micromanage anything,” he said. “We just are simply committed to helping them become more efficient and helping them get the information they need.”
The board has approved the software upgrade in June and UMMC is rolling out more automation. However UMMC leaders say they may not create a central program office, saying they fear it would become a bottleneck that would delay projects. UMMC also hired Retha Clark, who had been working as a consultant as its first chief operating officer.
Woodward signed a two-year contract on March 1, with her salary set at $680,000 for the first year and $700,000 the second year. The vice chancellor is named by the Ole Miss chancellor with the approval of the board. That leaves the possibility that a new university leader, expected by December, could replace her.
When Woodward signed the contract, Rouse said trustees told her that they expected her to resolve the procurement problems. Trustees could refuse to renew her contract when it expires if they aren’t satisfied with the progress.
“When the time is appropriate, I think you will see a contract extension,” Rouse said.