|More than four years after Rutgers University and RWJBarnabas Health finalized their $1 billion-plus partnership, the public is getting a first look at some of the budget information behind the agreement, but the faculty union says the state’s flagship university should be doing more to open its books to the public and state legislators.
According to a spreadsheet obtained through public records requests from the Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences faculty union, RWJBarnabas plans to spend nearly $53 million in fiscal year 2023 on payment packages for seven Rutgers medical school chairs and funding for more than 50 health care start-ups across the university.
Most of the money is earmarked for Rutgers’ main campus in New Brunswick, with less being spent in Newark, where Rutgers New Jersey Medical School operates.Despite requesting — and suing for — more detailed spending information, union officials say the data provided by Rutgers is limited and does not tell the full story of how money is flowing between the two entities. For example, the spreadsheet does not explain what is included in “Chair/Director packages.”“
How can the State University of New Jersey, being the premier university here, be able to truly tell its residents what its finances are, and tell the Legislature what its true position is when either its record keeping is terrible or it doesn’t want to be honest about what support [RWJ]Barnabas is really providing and when it’s providing it,” Diomedes Tsitouras, executive director of the Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences faculty union, said in an interview.
Tsitouras said that from the small amount of data the university provided, the money “is very concentrated,” with most going to initial support packages for the chairs.RWJBarnabas Health is the umbrella organization for eight medical schools and seven centers and institutes.Information about the agreement is surfacing as Tsitouras’ union is negotiating with the university for a new contract and amid scrutiny over Rutgers’ spending habits regarding athletics and bonus payouts, including hundreds of thousands of dollars on food delivery services and entertainment for athletes.
The spreadsheet, which POLITICO reviewed, shows more than $31 million of the $53 million from RWJBarnabas is going to “Chair/Director packages” for individuals at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick. The remaining $21.4 million is spread between several health care-related start-ups launched by Rutgers employees, according to the spreadsheet.Tsitouras said he requested more detailed information about the partnership, including invoices and accounting documentation, but Rutgers supplied just the single spreadsheet. The union has filed a lawsuit to obtain more information.“
I don’t have any other evidence of money flowing to Rutgers from [RWJ]Barnabas. It doesn’t mean it didn’t flow, it just means I don’t know.” Tsitouras said. “Do they not keep documents? Are they not producing the documents? That’s kind of the mystery.”The lack of budget detail publicly available could put Rutgers in a difficult position when state budget negotiations begin next spring and university leaders are questioned about athletics spending, multimillion dollar deficits and bonuses paid to administrators during the pandemic.
Rutgers did produce data on how much was “budgeted” or projected to be spent for FY 2023, FY 2022 and FY 2021, but only included information about how much was “invoiced,” or actually spent, for FY 2021.The spreadsheet shows FY 2022 had a budgeted amount of $53 million, the same as FY 2023, but FY 2021 projected a budgeted amount of $74.5 million and an “invoice” amount of only $41.2 million.Rutgers spokesperson Zach Hosseini said in an email that Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences is reimbursed by RWJBarnabas Health for “investments in our research mission totaling up to $50 million per year.” Anything unspent can carry over, Hosseini said, noting the $74.5 million includes a carried-over $24.5 million in unspent funds.
According to the $1-billion plus agreement between Rutgers and RWJBarnabas that was signed in 2018, RWJBarnabas is supposed to manage and assume all of the clinical revenue Rutgers receives from employees seeing patients and pay the university back by paying doctors’ salaries and reimbursing other clinical costs as “mission support” which comes in two forms.“Fixed” mission support is laid out in the spreadsheet Rutgers provided. “Variable” mission support only comes into play if the operating margin for RWJBarnabas isin excess of 3 percent. That is exceedingly rare, Tsitouras said, and has not happened in the three-year period documented in the spreadsheet.
When the agreement was finalized in 2018, Rutgers received $100 million as a one-time contribution “to be used exclusively for the incremental improvement of our research and education missions,” Hosseini said.According to Hosseini, RWJBarnabas also provided $10 million to “ensure some of our best medical school students stay in the Garden State after they graduate.”
The partnership “has enabled Rutgers to recruit some of the nation’s leading faculty who are teaching our students, treating New Jerseysans, and engaged in ground-breaking and life-saving research,” Hosseini said. “It has also allowed us to greatly enhance the nation’s sixth-largest graduate medical education program by improving the quality of residency and fellowship programs throughout New Jersey.”Rutgers’ lack of transparency around its spending habits has begun to raise concern among some lawmakers.
Last month, state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) called for an investigation into Rutgers athletics spending, saying news stories about the questionable spending practices “amount to indictments of flagrant incompetence on the part of those charged with overseeing this university.”“It is absolutely mind-blowing that this was allowed to happen without the notice of someone overseeing the accumulating invoices,” O’Scanlon said in a statement calling for the investigation. “The problem is that apparently no one was paying attention to the invoices and spending to catch blatant misuse — which is a larger recurring issue.”
ORIGINAL ARTICLE BY BY CARLY SITRIN 09/13/2022
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