Contracting Out the Clinical Center?

The rumors that have been swirling around the Clinical Center for months are now official. As part of its ongoing drive to "reinvent" government, the Clinton Administration has indeed asked NIH to consider the possibility of contracting out the service components of the Clinical Center. And the truth may prove not quite as frightening as many had imagined.

According to a March 29 memo from Clinical Center Director John Gallin, a contract arrangement would be considered only if it is financially sound and could be done without compromising the quality of clinical care and research. The process of evaluating whether Clinical Center services should be turned over to a private contractor is expected to take about two years, although some intermediary decisions may be made between now and then.

Another encouraging note for clinical researchers is that the HHS official who is leading the effort to examine the Clinical Center's operations is Health Care Financing Administration Deputy Administrator Helen Smits -- a physician who has extensive hospital management experience and who has served on the faculties of Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., and the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. Smits, a former member of the Board of Commissioners of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, visited the Clinical Center March 30 and is expected to return several times to familiarize herself with its focus and concerns.

Gallin describes Smits' initial visit as "very positive." According to Gallin, Smits described herself as leading an "options team" to identify administrative obstacles that the Clinical Center faces in carrying out its mission and to develop the best process for evaluating the options to correct the problems.

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