November 20, 2012

Amid controversy, Claire Pomeroy to step down as UC Davis med school dean

Amid scrutiny from federal regulators and her own administration, the dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine announced Monday she will be stepping down.

Amid scrutiny from federal regulators and her own administration, the dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine announced Monday she will be stepping down.

Dr. Claire Pomeroy, whose seven-year tenure as dean was marked by fiscal growth and innovation but also by medical and ethical controversy, said she will leave the university on June 30, the close of the academic year.

Pomeroy, 57, told The Bee Monday that she plans to work during the transition with the University of California president's office to "represent the UC health systems in Washington, D.C., playing a role in helping define health care during this incredibly exciting moment in history."

Pomeroy is an expert in infectious diseases and a professor of internal medicine and microbiology and immunology. With nearly 10,000 employees and about 850 students, she has been a prominent figure in Sacramento, championing the university while supporting the work of humanitarian groups.

She said Monday the decision to leave was hers.

She said she is ready to move to the "national stage," and that her departure is "a natural evolution of my career" that she's been "thinking about for a while." She said she is talking to a "small number of organizations" about the next step but is not in a position to provide specifics.

"I'd love Barack Obama to call me," she said, chuckling.

Pomeroy came to the School of Medicine in 2003 as executive associate dean and became vice chancellor and dean in 2005.

A woman with an unusual personal story – she spent her teenage years in foster care – Pomeroy presided over tremendous growth for the UC Davis School of Medicine, which tripled its outside research funding during the last decade.

Some of that research has fallen under a cloud as Pomeroy's neurological surgery department became the focus of multiple investigations over the past 18 months.

At issue is the work of two neurosurgeons, Dr. J. Paul Muizelaar and Dr. Rudolph J. Schrot, who were banned last year by the university from any research activities involving human subjects.

The doctors have been accused of experimenting on dying brain cancer patients without proper approval from university officials or from federal regulators. Both the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals, have opened investigations.

The university's provost also is conducting a second internal probe.

Since July, when The Bee first reported the controversy involving Muizelaar and Schrot, Pomeroy has declined requests to be interviewed on the matter. On Monday, she said she still felt talking about the case was inappropriate with investigations in progress.

"I would also say we are deeply committed – and I am personally deeply committed – to safe and ethical approaches to research," she said. "That's something I will always advocate for."

The university is establishing an advisory committee to begin searching for Pomeroy's replacement.

Pomeroy's departure marks the second time in recent months that the dean of one of the university's landmark schools has stepped down. In August, the dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, along with the executive associate dean, also resigned.

Longtime dean Neal Van Alfen said in the summer he was leaving the elite agricultural college because Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi had informed him she planned to begin searching for a new dean. His executive associate dean, James MacDonald, resigned in support of his boss, saying he felt Van Alfen was being pushed out.

In a statement released Monday, Katehi praised Pomeroy for her work.

"Under Claire's leadership, UC Davis Health System has become a world-class institution, and we are grateful for her many contributions," Katehi said.

Nevertheless, Katehi ordered a top campus official in July to begin a "comprehensive review" of the accusations involving Muizelaar and Schrot, who work under Pomeroy. Findings from that probe, by Ralph J. Hexter, the provost and executive vice chancellor, have not been released.

Pomeroy also became ensnared in other controversies, which the university has tried to avoid as it strives for national prominence.

Earlier this year, the Academic Senate rebuked Pomeroy and several other administrators for their treatment of a medical professor who had criticized a campus event promoting a cancer-screening test.

Also, she and 35 other UC executives were criticized for asking the university to boost their pensions.

Pomeroy's total pay in 2011 was listed as $734,378.38, according to the university's most recent data.

Several colleagues described her Monday as an inspiring leader who is perfectly poised to move onto the national stage.

"She is just unbelievable in terms of her energy, her vision and her commitment to do things," said Dr. Thomas Nesbitt, associate vice chancellor for strategic technologies and alliances, who works directly for Pomeroy. "Sometimes I've thought, 'Wow, is this a little bit too ambitious?' "

Nesbitt singled out her successful effort in 2006 to win one of 12 coveted federal grants to establish a Clinical and Translational Science Center, aimed at speeding effective and safe new treatments into use.

"She's the one who said, 'We can do this,' " Nesbitt recalled.

Supporters have repeatedly praised Pomeroy – in news releases, in banquet speeches and on websites – as a woman with a passion for social justice. She has spoken openly about her troubled youth, and her decision at age 14 to flee an abusive home – a decision that led her into the foster system.

And, against all odds, to medical school.

Dr. Nathan Kuppermann, chair of emergency medicine, described Pomeroy as a leader with a "very down-to-earth vision about community involvement."

During her tenure at UC Davis, she helped develop medical education programs to prepare doctors to serve in rural areas. She was named a Businesswoman of the Year in 2010 by the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

"Sacramento is an amazing place," Pomeroy said. "The community has really engaged with UC Davis Health System. That coming- together to make advances in health care and health has been so inspiring for me.

"I'm just grateful for the opportunity I've had here."


UC Davis vice chancellor for human health sciences; dean, School of Medicine

Education: Received bachelor's and medical degrees from the University of Michigan in 1976 and 1979; MBA from the University of Kentucky in 2000

At UC Davis: Executive associate dean of the School of Medicine, 2003. Vice chancellor and dean in 2005

Quote: "It's pretty amazing that we spend twice as much per capita on health care as any other developed nation and yet have very mediocre outcomes. This is not a sustainable model for our country." – in an interview with The Bee Monday

Video clip:

Source: UC Davis

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