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UCI Releases Findings on Hiring of Donor's Son

A report finds a conflict but says the contributor and the radiology unit did not realize it.

April 27, 2006|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

A UC Irvine report released Wednesday found a conflict of interest in a doctor's $250,000 pledge to the school's radiology department shortly after it hired his son as a resident but said the donation played no part in his appointment.

The report also concluded that the donor and the radiology department chairman did not realize it was a conflict of interest and recommended the school tighten policies governing how residents are hired.

An investigation by a different UCI department, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, found no problem with the hiring. That office previously found nothing improper in its review of six cases of possible nepotism in UCI's medical programs.

"The primary finding is that there was no causal relationship," UCI spokeswoman Susan Menning said of the inquiries.

The radiology investigations were prompted by a Times report in January that found Dr. Alfred Sein was hired at UCI Medical Center in Orange the same month his father, Dr. Michael Sein, a volunteer teacher at UCI, pledged the donation in honor of Dr. Fong Tsai, the department director who awarded the position to his son.

Alfred Sein's position was newly created, and he was hired even though he was not originally chosen through the process that governs where most medical school graduates perform their residencies. His salary was paid from a different fund than other residents in the department.

Menning said she did not know of plans to return the donation or remove Alfred Sein from his residency. She said the school would follow recommendations in the report to give administrators more conflict-of-interest training and that hiring of residents who were not selected in the residency matching process would be more formalized.

Both reports were completed in February. Menning said the university did not want to release the reports until Chancellor Michael V. Drake had reviewed them. She could not explain why it took two months for Drake to receive the findings.

Tsai and the Seins did not return messages left at their offices.

After the Times story, medical school Dean Thomas Cesario asked four UCI professors and deans to review the matter. The Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity also undertook an inquiry at the request of Michael Arias, the assistant executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. The university never announced publicly that it was starting a second investigation.

Both reviews said Alfred Sein impressed Tsai while on a temporary rotation in the UCI radiology department in 2002. Sein then applied, but was not selected, for a UCI residency beginning in July 2004 through the National Residency Matching Program, which pairs medical school graduates with residency programs. The reports also said Tsai had wanted to create an additional position in the program before Sein was hired.

The dean's office report said Tsai received approval for the slot in August 2003. He contacted Sein, who had already begun a residency in Boston, to say he "probably had a resident position for him" beginning the following July. After senior department faculty interviewed Sein in November 2003, Tsai set aside the position for him.

Both reports say the department then put the residency on hold while it confirmed it could hire someone who was not selected through the matching process. During that time, Sein worked as an unpaid research associate in the radiology department. According to the dean's office review, the department received verbal approval in November 2004, and told Sein his residency would begin in January 2005.

After the position was awarded to Alfred Sein, the dean's report said, Michael Sein talked to Tsai about making a donation. Tsai referred him to the campus office that handles gifts, and the paperwork was completed Dec. 27.

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