January 17, 2007
Contact: Anna Farneski
Phone: (973) 972-3000
UMDNJ Board Approves New Reporting Policy for Ethical and Legal Concerns
Action Codifies Guidelines Already in Place to Protect Whistleblowers
NEWARK — The Board of Trustees of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey unanimously approved yesterday a sweeping new university-wide policy for faculty, staff, and students to report suspected ethical and legal concerns - and to protect those whistleblowers from any form of retaliation.
The Board’s action has the effect of codifying and expanding the existing guidelines for accepting complaints and protecting whistleblowers, which are currently being enforced by the UMDNJ Office of Ethics and Compliance.
“As we move the University forward it is imperative that we create an atmosphere that fosters ethics and professionalism,” said UMDNJ Board Chairman Robert Del Tufo. “We need a coherent policy that encourages employees to come forward with information and protects them from adverse reaction.”
The policy, first and foremost, reinforces the obligation of every UMDNJ staff member, student and administrator to engage in lawful behavior - and, if suspicious of possible misconduct, to report that behavior to an appropriate authority. The policy says that a good faith suspicion of misconduct is sufficient, and that no disciplinary action may be taken against an employee who honestly makes an allegation of misconduct - even if a subsequent investigation of the whistleblower’s charge finds no misconduct.
The policy also spells out how and where such reports may be made. Such reports may be taken anonymously; also, if the whistleblower discloses his or her name, it must be kept confidential to the extent possible under law.
Any one of six different chains of command may serve as an “appropriate authority” to take such a report, depending upon what the individual believes is the proper forum:
· An employee’s immediate supervisor;
· The UMDNJ Office of Human Resources;
· The UMDNJ Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity;
· The UMDNJ Ethics and Compliance Office, including complaints taken on the office’s existing telephone line (1-800-215-9664) and existing Web site (http://www.umdnj.edu/complweb/forms/forms_06reporting.htm);
· The Audit Committee of the UMDNJ Board of Trustees; and
· The Federal Monitor for UMDNJ, Herbert Stern; and/or the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Christopher Christie, as appropriate.
Also, if a whistleblower suspects retaliation or harassment as a result of a report of possible misconduct, they may turn to the UMDNJ Office of Ethics and Compliance, a designated compliance officer at his or her school, or the Audit Committee of the UMDNJ Board of Trustees to request an investigation.
A new Disciplinary Review Committee will meet weekly to ensure that requests by supervisors for disciplinary actions against staff, including termination, are being made for cause and not in retaliation against a whistleblower. A new database is being developed to allow for tracking of complaints and diagnostic reviews. Additionally, the policy calls for mandatory ethics education and training.
The new policy is the latest in a series of reforms the Board of Trustees has taken since March, when Gov. Jon S. Corzine appointed Del Tufo as Board Chairman, and Dr. Bruce C. Vladeck as Interim President. In addition, separate Board Finance and Audit committees were created to allow for more exhaustive reviews of activities encompassed by these far-reaching functions. The new, independent Audit Committee was designed based largely on the principles of Sarbanes-Oxley. A new Governance and Ethics Committee has additionally been created, with responsibilities for Board recruitment, orientation, and development.
In August, the Board hired Michael Clarke, Esq., for the newly created position of Vice President/Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer. The position reports directly to the Board of Trustees and compliance efforts have been restructured into a centralized organization along with expansion of the department to 28 positions. To date, approximately 10 additional staff have been hired or promoted, including a privacy/security officer, a senior investigator and other investigators, a risk assessment manager, a director of ethics programs and a director of corporate compliance operations, along with local compliance officers. The office is actively interviewing and recruiting additional personnel.
UMDNJ is the nation's largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 5,500 students attending the state's three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and its only school of public health, on five campuses. Last year, there were more than two million patient visits to UMDNJ facilities and faculty at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, a mental health and addiction services network.