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U Board of Trustees Agrees to Proposed HCI Memorandum of Understanding

Elise Vandersteen Bailey
University of Utah Board of Trustees Chair H. David Burton and President David Pershing at an October 5, 2017 meeting, discussing a new memorandum of understanding with Huntsman Cancer Foundation over the operation of the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

The University of Utah’s Board of Trustees approved a supplemental memorandum of understanding between the U and Huntsman Cancer Foundation in regards to the operation of Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) on Thursday.

All agreed to the terms of the agreement with the exception of Vice Chair Phillip Clinger in an 8-1 vote. It’s not clear why Clinger voted against adopting the memorandum, and he could not be reached for comment.

The New Supplemental Agreement

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Lorris Betz, interim CEO of University of Utah Health, Vice President of Health Sciences and Dean of the School of Medicine, said the new agreement was a compromise between both parties and clears up the recent dispute between the foundation and the university. No new structural or personnel issues are part of the agreement.

The new memorandum addresses finances and the reporting structure and authority of HCI’s CEO and director, as well as creates a joint oversight committee.

The CEO and director, a position currently held by Mary Beckerle, will continue to report to the president of the U as was announced at the time of Beckerle’s reinstatement. She will also be able to make cancer-related faculty appointments in partnership with departmental chairs and relevant hospital leadership.

The joint oversight committee will review the performance of HCI, resolve disputes between the U and Huntsman Cancer Foundation and approve leadership changes. The committee will have five members — the president of the university, the CEO of Huntsman Cancer Foundation, one person appointed each by the U and the foundation, and a “prominent cancer specialist, who is not directly associated with either of the parties or HCI.” That unaffiliated expert must be chosen jointly by the president of the U and the CEO of Huntsman Cancer Foundation.

The disagreement over institute funding is settled in the memorandum, which also takes measures prevent another misunderstanding. The U will transfer $68 million to HCI in response to the foundation’s belief that the U hadn’t met its financial obligations under past memorandums. The money will be broken up in three separate payments, which will be distributed in January of each year from 2018 to 2020. The operational funding of HCI was listed as the U’s responsibility under the previous memorandum. The previous document also outlines that HCI receives a share of funding from the revenues of cancer treatment. The new supplemental memorandum makes clear that this operational funding is in addition to, not included in, that share of revenues and other financial obligations the U has to the institute.

Additionally, the U will take steps to ensure clarity of HCI’s financial share of cancer treatment revenues and the Joint Oversight Committee will appoint an independent accountant to help resolve any disputes.

All donations to cancer research, treatment and education will now be handled through Huntsman Cancer Foundation, a point of disagreement between the foundation’s President and COO Susan Sheehan and former University of Utah Health CEO Vivian Lee.

Jon Huntsman Sr.’s promise to bring in $120 million in donations at the dedication of Primary Children’s and Families’ Cancer Research Center, an addition to HCI, is also included in the memorandum. All of that money will be raised by Dec. 31, 2025, and will be used for cancer research, care or education unless Huntsman Cancer Foundation approves other uses.

The new supplemental agreement will renew automatically every eight years.

The dispute

The disagreement between the groups started when HCI CEO and Director Mary Beckerle brought up concerns over the U’s spending on the research institution, which is a department of University of Utah Health. She felt the U wasn’t meeting the funding obligations outlined in previous memorandums. Tensions rose in the months that followed. Eventually, Beckerle was dismissed from her position as head of HCI by U President David Pershing and Lee.

Protests by HCI staff and patients, as well as disapproving statements from the Huntsman family, who run Huntsman Cancer Foundation and raise private donations for cancer research at HCI, quickly followed. According to documents outlining the relationship between the foundation and the U, Huntsman Cancer Foundation is entitled to a say as to who holds the position of CEO and Director of the institute.

After significant controversy, Beckerle was reinstated as CEO and director. Lee resigned from her leadership positions at the U and Pershing announced that he would retire from his position as president of the university once a replacement could be found. The new president will be involved in the search for Lee’s replacement.

After voting on the new memorandum, Pershing read a joint statement from himself and Peter Huntsman, CEO of Huntsman Cancer Foundation, saying, “This agreement … ensures that we will continue to put the patient at the center of a variety of therapies that go beyond cancer treatment, while safeguarding the role of basic research into finding cancer cures, and preserving the resources the Institute needs to fulfill its mission.” It also says, “We are gratified to have emerged from several months of discussion better positioned to bring together our shared resources, world-class talent and experience to fight cancer and care for our patients.”

U spokesperson Chris Nelson said that the working relationship between the two groups is healthy at this point, and the new memorandum is evidence of that.

The terms of the memorandum have now been agreed upon by both parties, but the document still needs to be signed.

University of Utah Health spokesperson Kathy Wilets said as a result of the agreement upon the supplemental memorandum, she doesn’t anticipate that audits by a hired outside firm will be completed.

Neither Huntsman Cancer Foundation CEO Peter Huntsman nor President and COO Susan Sheehan returned requests for comment.

[email protected]


This story will be updated as more details become available.

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About the Contributor
Elise Vandersteen Bailey, Investigative Coordinator
Elise is the Investigative Editor at the Daily Utah Chronicle. In her almost four years at the paper, she has won nearly 20 awards from professional journalism organizations. She currently attends graduate school at the U, studying Public Policy and Population Health Sciences, and spends her free time wondering whether it's too nerdy to Tweet whatever "cool" graph she's found most recently.

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