Top US Cancer Center Cuts 1000 Staff

Nick Mulcahy

January 05, 2017

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston is cutting its staff by about 1000 people, including 800 to 900 layoffs, and the rest via retirement and other forms of attrition, center officials announced today.

No doctors or clinical-care nurses are losing their jobs. "In no way are we compromising the high quality and safety of patient care," said Thomas Buchholz, MD, the center's physician-in-chief, at a televised press conference today.

The layoffs will be finished by next week, the officials said.

MD Anderson, rated as America's top cancer hospital by US News & World Report this year, has been suffering from revenue shortfalls. In September and October, the first 2 months of fiscal 2017, the center had a combined $100 million in losses, as income did not cover operating expenses.

Ron DePinho, MD, president of MD Anderson, said the announcement of layoffs was a "sobering day" for the institution. Dr DePinho, who makes more than $2 million a year in salary, received a $208,000 performance bonus this week. But the Houston Chronicle reports that he has donated the bonus back to the center.

According to the Cancer Letter , an online trade publication, MD Anderson's top management recently told faculty via email that, "like other major health care institutions locally and nationwide, we are facing decreasing clinical reimbursement from government and insurance companies, a shrinking pool of potential patients as insurance providers restrict coverage, and record rates of automatic denials by insurance companies contributing to bad debt."

But the Cancer Letter report observes that other major cancer centers, such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, are not reporting operating losses.

Len Zwelling, MD, a medical oncologist and former vice president for research administration at MD Anderson, said on his online blog that he was not impressed with today's press conference.

"It has been known for quite some time that this imbalance between revenues and expenses was on-going [at MD Anderson]," he writes.

"The leadership of MD Anderson got before the microphones and from what I could see explained nothing as to why this happened and why now," added Dr Zwelling, who has criticized MD Anderson management in the past.

At the press conference, Dr DePinho said that the implementation of an electronic health record system in 2016 was a key factor in the losses, according to the Houston Chronicle .

The EHR system, known as Epic, has forced physicians and other staff to spend significant time learning the system and less time with patients, he said.

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