After months of silence from UNLV on the temporary closure and reopening of a maternal HIV clinic, the public was poised to receive some answers beginning Tuesday.
But a five-day Chapter 6 hearing related to the program’s operation has been canceled.
Dr. Echezona Ezeanolue and nurse Dina Patel, the two UNLV faculty members who ran the clinic and the subjects of the administrative hearing, are no longer employed by the university.
Ezeanolue’s last day at UNLV was Thursday, and Patel’s last day was Friday. The university placed them on paid administrative leave in October. Ezeanolue and Patel did not return requests for comment.
The university would not comment on whether they resigned, but Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed, said a decision to resign before a university hearing would be similar to a plea agreement.
“I am not shocked by that,” Jaschik said. “It sort of gives everybody an out. From the university’s perspective, it theoretically means it’s over earlier and without litigation. Individuals do it (resign) when they think they’ll get a better outcome than they would otherwise.”
Jaschik said a Chapter 6 process can be “long and dragged out,” and it can be “win-win” if everyone is in agreement not to move forward.
“Many people want closure or for the university to say, ‘Somebody broke the law. Somebody broke the rules,’ ” Jaschik said. “But a long, drawn-out firing process may benefit no one.”
Questions swirled late last year when the university abruptly suspended the maternal HIV program without warning Ezeanolue, Patel or their 62 patients.
The program, created in 2005, is the only comprehensive maternal-child HIV program in Southern Nevada that has worked to reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission. It provides outpatient HIV primary care services to low-income, vulnerable and medically underserved women, infants, children and youth. Ezeanolue first received grant funding for the program in 2007, when he worked at the University of Nevada, Reno.
When the program was suspended, Shawn Gerstenberger, dean of the School of Community Health Sciences, said he had initiated an administrative audit, which signaled the beginning of the Chapter 6 process. UNLV President Len Jessup has said there were irregularities with how the grant was being administered.
However, the audit, which was conducted by Huron Consulting Group LLC, has been kept secret. The university hired the firm to conduct a review and analysis of the program in October and paid the group up to $20,000 plus expenses, according to a copy of the contract obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The firm was tasked with identifying potential conflicts of interest related to the clinic and potential violations of the 1996 federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, along with investigating billing and invoices.
If the hearing had not been canceled, a hearing officer and a panel of five faculty members would have heard the case. At the conclusion of the hearing, the panel would have given a recommendation as to discipline. The hearing officer would have developed a statement of facts to be given to Jessup, who would make the final decision regarding discipline.
The last time the university held a Chapter 6 proceeding was in 2014, when a committee of UNLV professors voted to terminate English professor Mustapha Marrouchi’s employment. Marrouchi was found to have plagiarized the works of 18 people.
“After a process to indict someone, sometimes there’s a plea agreement,” Jaschik said. “This is sort of similar. When people realize what’s at stake, they think, ‘You know what? It’s better to leave.’”
Timeline of events
— 2005: Dr. Echezona Ezeanolue creates the maternal HIV program while a professor at the Univeristy of Nevada, Reno.
— 2007: UNR receives grant funding for the program.
— Sept. 15, 2017: UNLV suspends the program.
— Week of Oct. 16, 2017: UNLV begins placing 62 patients into the care of the Wellness Center at University Medical Center.
— Oct. 17, 2017: Shawn Gerstenberger, dean of the school of Community Health Sciences, initiates administrative audit of the program.
— Oct. 26, 2017: A lawsuit is filed on behalf of a 4-year-old HIV-positive girl which seeks to force UNLV to reopen the clinic. UNLV also enters into contract with Huron Consulting Group LLC to conduct a review and analysis of the program. The resulting report of that investigation has been kept secret.
— Oct. 30, 2017: Ezeanolue and Patel are placed on administrative leave and escorted off UNLV’s campus.
— Nov. 8, 2017: UNLV announces a new principal investigator for the program, Dr. David Di John, the same day a hearing was held to ask the court to force the university to reopen the clinic.
— April 2, 2018: Chapter 6 hearing that was scheduled to begin on Tuesday is canceled.
A previous version of this timeline incorrectly identified the institution where the maternal HIV program was created.