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Senior vice president of health science resigns, review of medical schools to remain private

Lauren Renteria

(From left to right) Joe “Skip” Garcia, former senior vice president of UA Health Sciences, Mike Jonen, senior assistant VP for finance and strategy for UA Health Sciences, and David Elmer, associate dean for finance and business affairs for the UA College of Medicine-Tucson. The Arizona Board of Regents Health Affairs Committee held the last of two meetings to review and understand the operations of the UA’s two medical colleges on Aug. 12, 2016.

UA Health Sciences has a new interim leader after the previous head retired late last year following controversy at the medical schools he was overseeing.

The Arizona Board of Regents hired a law firm to carry out an independent review of UA’s two medical schools in August after concerns about leadership and workplace culture surfaced.

The review cost close to $180,000 according to information gathered by the Arizona Daily Star. The funds came from the state, and therefore the public, but when the report was concluded in October, ABOR declined to make it public.

Former senior vice president for health sciences Joe G.N. “Skip” Garcia was involved in the controversy, as he oversaw the two medical schools and was the subject of an Arizona Republic article examining his travel expenses.

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On December 8, 2016, Garcia announced his resignation and shortly after Leigh Neumayer was announced as the new interim senior vice president for health sciences. 

Neumayer  was previously the head of the Department of Surgery, is an internationally known breast cancer surgeon and researcher, an advocate for women’s health issues and a leader in surgical education.

In a prepared statement, Garcia said that he was stepping down in order to focus on his research and teaching.

“I am proud to have been able to have had such a strong impact on health science at the University of Arizona and am pleased to be able to continue to contribute to this important effort through my scientific research, teaching and clinical work,” Garcia’s statement said, as reported by The Arizona Daily Star.

Garcia was earning a $870,000 annual salary in his position and will continue to receive that figure for two more years under the terms of his contract. Garcia has a tenured appointment as the Dr. Merlin K. DuVal professor of medicine in the UA College of Medicine—Tucson that he will continue to hold.

According to a UA press release, Neumayer’s tenure as interim senior vice president became effective January 1, and will continue through the UA presidential transition.

An interim head for the Department of Surgery will be appointed during her tenure as the senior vice president for health sciences.

In the press release, UA President Ann Weaver Hart said she was excited for Neumayer to expand her leadership in the health sciences.

“She has a distinguished record as a physician scientist and has demonstrated exceptional leadership as chair of the Department of Surgery, building an incredible team and restoring critically important transplant programs,” Hart said. “She also has established a tremendous working relationship with our Banner Health colleagues.”

In the same release, Neumayer expressed her respect for Garcia.

“I am honored to serve in this interim position,” Neumayer said. “Dr. Garcia recruited me here and the University of Arizona has benefited greatly from his leadership. He has built a strong foundation for additional growth in the health sciences at the University of Arizona.”

Citing “attorney-client privilege,” regents chairman Greg Patterson said in a statement on October 26, 2016 that ABOR believed no further inquiry into the medical schools was needed following the completion of the third-party report.

George Humphrey, assistant vice president at the UAHS Office of Public Affairs, responded to questions via email about how the results of the report would affect the accreditation of the medical school in Phoenix with a news brief about the UA College of Medicine—Phoenix.

The February 15, 2016 brief states that the UA College of Medicine—Phoenix has been granted provisional accreditation and is on track for accreditation in 2018.

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Humphrey also forwarded President Hart’s statement on the report.

“I am pleased the Board of Regents has concluded its comprehensive independent review and found no grounds for additional board inquiry,” Hart said in the statement.

Board communications manager Julie Newberg responded to questions via email about whether the report was a matter of public interest, calling the UA Colleges of Medicine important assets to the state.

“The long-term sustainability and success of the colleges is a priority for the board,” Newberg said. “The status of the evaluation itself does not in any way negate the public nature and public interest. We have asked for a series of reports to be made to ensure the colleges continue to deliver the best education possible for students and are operated in the public interest.”

Newberg forwarded a October 26, 2016 news brief in response to questions about how the report will change policies at the medical schools.

The brief said that Hart will work with a leadership team to create business plans to address the “continuation and enhancement of the UA’s ongoing oversight of workforce climate and organizational issues associated with the colleges of medicine.”

The university will also work for the “advancement of a comprehensive and coordinated strategy for internal and external communications regarding the colleges of medicine,” among other goals.

Follow Marissa Heffernan on Twitter.

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