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In Wake of Scandal, UHS's Pharmacy Overhauls Personnel

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The University Health Services (UHS) Pharmacy underwent a massive overhaul as part of Harvard's response to an investigation in which it was fined $775,000 last week by the federal government for improper drug distribution and lax security.

Harvard began investigating the pharmacy last year after the University discovered that an employee had stolen codeine-based cough medicine for his own consumption, a charge which is currently being prosecuted in federal court.

Harvard contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office, which began its own more extensive investigation, and the results of that investigation led to last week's settlement.

But financial payments were not the only action the University pursued, as it made what it called swift and decisive changes in the personnel and procedures of the pharmacy.

Six of the nine employees at the pharmacy have been replaced. Prescriptions will now be filled by an almost entirely new staff "from top to bottom," including a new director, according to James H. Rowe III '73, vice president for government, community and public affairs.

The new director, Maureen A. McCarthy, was hired after a statewide search. Requests for an interview were denied.

University spokesperson Joe Wrinn cited "institutional policy" and said he was not at liberty to comment when asked why an almost entirely new staff was hired although only one employee was charged with any wrongdoing.

Rowe said, however, that the replacements were a necessary step.

"[UHS] felt that a general upgrade of the pharmacy was necessary, not just in equipment, but personnel as well," he said.

Several changes in pharmacy procedures have also been implemented.

One significant policy change makes McCarthy directly accountable to David S. Rosenthal '59, the director of UHS.

In addition, security of the physical site has been tightened and stricter restrictions have been imposed on access to pharmacy computers.

In an interview, Rosenthal emphasized that UHS is in full compliance with all federal regulations and continues to be in contact with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Department of Public Health."

"Harvard's pharmacy is like any other public pharmacy; it is a regulated entity subject to periodical inquiry in the general course of its operation," he said.

In its investigation, the U.S. Attorney's Office also accused the UHS Pharmacy of improperly distributing emergency medical supplies to clinics at Law and Medical Schools, according to Rowe.

The federal government maintained that these clinics were not licensed to dispense drugs of any type.

UHS officials acknowledged the existence of such practices but refuse to admit guilt.

"At no time was any patient's health or safety ever in question," Rosenthal said.

"We chose neither to admit nor deny this issue," Rowe said. "But in the government's case, there was not a single case in which drugs distributed by the pharmacy were improperly prescribed or used.

Several changes in pharmacy procedures have also been implemented.

One significant policy change makes McCarthy directly accountable to David S. Rosenthal '59, the director of UHS.

In addition, security of the physical site has been tightened and stricter restrictions have been imposed on access to pharmacy computers.

In an interview, Rosenthal emphasized that UHS is in full compliance with all federal regulations and continues to be in contact with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Department of Public Health."

"Harvard's pharmacy is like any other public pharmacy; it is a regulated entity subject to periodical inquiry in the general course of its operation," he said.

In its investigation, the U.S. Attorney's Office also accused the UHS Pharmacy of improperly distributing emergency medical supplies to clinics at Law and Medical Schools, according to Rowe.

The federal government maintained that these clinics were not licensed to dispense drugs of any type.

UHS officials acknowledged the existence of such practices but refuse to admit guilt.

"At no time was any patient's health or safety ever in question," Rosenthal said.

"We chose neither to admit nor deny this issue," Rowe said. "But in the government's case, there was not a single case in which drugs distributed by the pharmacy were improperly prescribed or used.

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