Editorial: Prouty Should Take Further Steps

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Dartmouth College have announced measures to assure thousands of loyal supporters of the annual Prouty fundraiser that their donations will be used as intended, for cancer research and patient support services at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, which is part of the D-H health system and which is affiliated with the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. While these steps go a long way in the right direction, they don’t go quite far enough.

As our colleague Rick Jurgens reported last week, the health system and the college are said to have jointly agreed to new governance guidelines that explicitly give the cancer center director the authority to ensure that donor intent is honored and which also provide that restricted accounts be set up to segregate charitable gifts.

This action is intended to put to rest a controversy that surfaced last fall when Mark Israel, the longtime head of the cancer center, filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that he had been forced from his job because he objected to the diversion by D-H officials of $6 million in funds donated for cancer research and patient support services to cover an operating loss at D-H for fiscal 2015. Of that amount, he contended, $1.6 million came from the Prouty, while D-H puts the amount at about half that. In any case, hundreds of thousands of dollars were at issue.

D-H responded that it had spent the funds legally and moved to dismiss Israel’s lawsuit on the grounds that his claim was subject to binding arbitration. Last month, the state attorney general’s office agreed that D-H officials did indeed spend the money legally. But the whole affair left a distinctly bad odor, which D-H has attempted to dissipate in part by directing $6 million back to the cancer center for research and patient services.

News of the new guidelines came in an op-ed written by Chris Amos, the interim director of the cancer center, and Shelley Gilbert, chairwoman of the board of directors of its fundraising arm, the Friends of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. The piece contained a blanket pledge to donors, participants and volunteers that all donations will be spent “to advance cancer research, improve cancer treatment protocols, develop strategies for cancer prevention, provide support services for patients with cancer and their families, and facilitate otherwise unfunded endeavors in cancer research, education and translation of research from science to patients.”

Rick Adams, a D-H spokesman, told Jurgens that “arrangements governing the operation and activities of (the cancer center) have been clarified, simplified, and aligned to allow for more transparent and efficient management of resources to support cancer research and patient care.”

We, along with D-H, are all for transparency in these matters, which makes us wonder why the new guidelines are not being published for all to see on the Friends’ web page. Adams non-explained that the governance agreement is “an internal document” and therefore not public. If the object is to assure thousands of people that their generous donations will be used as they expect them to be, such inscrutable scruples should be overcome. Some number of donors undoubtedly subscribe to the dictum Ronald Reagan adopted as his own: “Trust, but verify.”

Moreover, much of the information that has emerged over the course of this controversy seems to essentially confirm Israel’s contention that the donated cancer center money was diverted to cover other expenses in 2015. If that’s the case, legalities aside, an apology is in order.