The University of Washington’s dental-school dean has resigned, and the university is looking for ways to reduce a $36 million dental-school deficit.
Faced with a growing dental-school deficit that now totals $36 million, the dean of the University of Washington’s school of dentistry has resigned.
Joel Berg resigned Monday because “he believes it will be best for the School of Dentistry to have fresh leadership to resolve its urgent financial challenges,” wrote Provost Jerry Baldasty in an email to staffers.
Baldasty held an all-school meeting with dental-school faculty and students Wednesday afternoon. James Johnson, the professor and chair of endodontics, has been appointed interim dean.
Berg, who has been dean since 2012, has long been criticized by a group of the school’s professors, who said they believed he was mismanaging the school’s finances and urged the university to replace him. They have been especially critical of Berg’s decision to create a new center for pediatric dentistry in Sand Point, which is one of the biggest money losers for the school.
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In 2015, when the deficit reached $29 million, the school’s faculty council rejected Berg’s proposed financial-stability plan, saying it relied on faulty assumptions and would not solve the problems. A year later, the school’s red ink had grown by an additional $6 million. In his email to staff, Baldasty said the deficit is now $36 million.
Baldasty has said that the school’s money woes stem from its role in providing uncompensated and undercompensated care for Medicaid patients, whose care is reimbursed at a lower rate than what Medicaid provides.
In the Tuesday email, Baldasty said he has worked closely with faculty and staff to analyze the school’s operations, finances and general practices. He said he was immediately reducing the number of associate deans from seven to four, and also cutting administrative stipends.
He said the university is developing a plan to address the financial losses in the Center for Pediatric Dentistry, as well as the school’s other specialty residency programs and clinics.
Earlier this year, Berg said that he planned to reorganize the school, and that he expected to fix the deficits by bringing more full-paying patients to the dentistry clinics.
Finances for the Sand Point pediatric-dentistry center, which opened in September 2010, appeared to have been based on overly optimistic estimates of the number of patients who would use the center. Records showed that about half the school’s departments were losing money, but pediatric dentistry had by far the largest deficit.
Also this year, in August, the state’s Executive Ethics Board found reasonable cause to believe Berg violated the state’s Ethics in Public Service Act for using public resources for private gain. However, UW officials said that finding did not play a factor in the resignation.
The board found that Berg had used his UW email address 468 times for work that was not part of his job as dean. The work was for three entities: SpringRock Ventures, a Seattle venture-capital firm; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS); and DMG America, a manufacturer and supplier of dental equipment. Berg had a consulting contract to review medical reports for the Office of Counsel to the Inspector General of DHHS and is a consultant with SpringRock Ventures.
In addition to the emails, two administrative coordinators with the school told investigators that they helped schedule Berg’s meetings with SpringRock Ventures and the U.S. DHHS office.
The UW’s Board of Regents is expected to discuss the dental-school deficit in November.