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By Susan Carroll
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 24, 1998

UA not taking investigation to heart, clinic director says

A UA border clinic medical director said yesterday he is disappointed the university is taking a federal request to inspect $76 million in federal grant money too lightly.

"The university is downplaying the issue completely, which is natural, but a little disappointing." said Dr. Robert Alfich, director of the Clinica Adelante in Surprise.

"They've been caught red-handed, and they know it," he added.

Alfich sent a letter in June to the Department of Health and Human Services that sparked a federal-funds investigation of Dr. Frank Hale, University of Arizona program director for grants at three border-health clinics.

The clinics under investigation include Clinica Adelante, Tucson's El Rio Community Health Center and Sage Memorial Hospital, in Granado.

The Bureau of Health Professions, an agency of the Health and Human Services Department, accused the program two weeks ago of using grant money to pay out illegal stipends. One physician received full-year funding for a seven-month program, another did not fulfill program requirements and a third did not complete the research project.

"I'm not particularly concerned," said Michael Cusanovich, UA's vice president for research. "We're not admitting or denying anything at this point."

The Department of Health and Human Services released a report Feb. 4 recommending the university cut funding for the Border Health Fellowship Program. The report described the program as "not viable" and inconsistent with the "approved scope of work."

By March 4, the UA must submit all of last year's medical department grants for review by the department. UA medical grants totaled more than $76 million in fiscal year 1996-97 - 28.9 percent of all university grants.

"It appears a good old boys network has been exposed," Alfich said.

Cusanovich said he "received some concern" from the Department of Health and Human Services and speculated the issue would be resolved by the summer without a criminal investigation.

He would not comment specifically on the alleged UA border clinic fund mismanagement, but said questions about grant funds arise in about five to 10 grants a year out of 3,000.

"What you don't want to do is have a chronic type of problem," Cusanovich said.

Hale could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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