UMC not renewing $11.2M anesthesia contract with Paul Foster School of Medicine

EL PASO, Texas - Faculty and students at the Paul Foster School of Medicine at Texas Tech said in a letter obtained by ABC-7 that the school might need to close its doors. ABC-7 has learned that University Medical Center is not renewing its $11.2 million anesthesia contract with the school, which has provided those services to the hospital for 40 years.

"We perceive this action as the first step to dissolve this long-standing partnership, an action that threatens the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine's educational mission," said faculty and students in the letter. "These events concern us all because they threaten the very existence of our new medical school."

The school's Faculty Council President Dr. Susan Watts told ABC-7 over the phone that the school's anesthesiology residency program lost accreditation in 2005. A source with knowledge of the school told ABC-7 that residents performed poorly on board exams, and the program lacked leadership.

"I really think that you should reconsider your decision," former El Paso Mayor John Cook told the UMC Board of Managers during its meeting Tuesday. "This is not how a teaching hospital is supposed to go."

"To us, this action is not seen as a single contract or one-time event, but the latest and most disturbing event in a series of concerning events," Watts told board members. "And we anticipate that it is unlikely to be the last."

Watts told ABC-7 that the school re-applied in 2011 with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, and received initial accreditation. But UMC clearly remained concerned -- Watts told ABC-7 during the phone conversation that UMC stopped funding the school's anesthesiology program in 2013.

"Your decisions have been instrumental in the closing of the Texas Tech anesthesia residency program, and now the closing of the whole Anesthesia Department," Watts told the board.

UMC spokeswoman Margaret Althoff-Olivas said UMC awarded the contract to New York-based Somnia Inc. She said Somnia doctors would come in and provide anesthesia training to Texas Tech residency students of other specialties.

"The board did not just read over something once and go, 'Oh, yeah, yeah, let's go with these guys,'" Althoff-Olivas said. "It was a lengthy and drawn-out and very deliberative and comprehensive process."

UMC CEO Jim Valenti said in a statement that the decision doesn't mean the hospital is severing the relationship with the school. He said UMC plans to invest millions in a number of the school's other programs in coming years.

"We are going to invest in programs at Texas Tech that show improved quality of care, improved customer service, that provide solid leadership," Valenti told school representatives at the meeting. "Those are the programs of educational and clinical service that we're going to invest in -- that have promise. Those programs that don't meet that criteria, the dean and I will not invest in."

Faculty and students wrote in the letter that Somnia's bid didn't meet requirements in the request for proposal, and failed to cover key services that could end up costing the county millions.

"(The school) looks forward to its continued partnership with UMC by providing a wide array of medical services to the region," according to a statement from Dr. Laura Gallegos, the senior communications director at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso, "while simultaneously ensuring our students receive top-quality educational experience."

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