USC-hospital deal nets Sorensen big money

Former USC President Andrew Sorensen.

COLUMBIA -- Former University of South Carolina President Andrew Sorensen has been paid a combined $446,000 per year from the university and from the Greenville Hospital System as he touts a deal between the university and the hospital system that would expand USC's medical education program in Greenville.

Sorensen, who retired as president of USC in 2008, has been a staunch supporter of the deal, writing editorials in favor of expansion that have been published in the Journal of the S.C. Medical Association, The (Columbia) State and The Post and Courier. He has argued that the deal, which calls for Greenville Hospital System to spend $35 million to $39 million over the next seven to 10 years to help USC expand its medical education program, would help alleviate a shortage of primary care doctors in South Carolina without burdening taxpayers.

But opponents of the deal, skeptical of USC's promises that taxpayers won't eventually be asked to support its expanded medical school, have questioned Sorensen's objectivity because he is getting paid from both the hospital system and USC.

"I think it's disingenuous at best that he'd be out there serving as the spokesman for this when you're drawing a half a million dollars," said state Rep. Jim Merrill, a Republican from Daniel Island. "I think it does not meet the smell test. It doesn't smell good at all."

Sorensen, who draws a salary of $236,097 per year as a tenured faculty member at USC's School of Medicine in Columbia, said he worked to expand collaboration between the university and the hospital system when he was president. He disputed the notion that he has pushed for the deal because he is being paid to do so.

"I'm continuing to do what I did when I was president," said Sorensen, who is being paid $210,000 per year by Greenville Hospital System.

In addition to his faculty position, Sorensen serves as president of the Institute for the Advancement of Health Care, a research and work force development collaboration between the hospital system and USC.

Dr. Jerry Youkey, vice president for medical and academic services for the hospital system, said Sorensen's pay is tied to his work for the institute, whose scope extends beyond supporting a USC medical school campus in Greenville.

"The concept that this is some kind of arrangement to pay Andrew to promote the expansion of the medical school is not accurate," Youkey said.

Sorensen has described his work for the hospital system as consulting work, which he performs one day a week during the academic year and three months during the summer. He said he started doing consulting work for the hospital system a week after leaving the presidency.

Noting Sorensen's extensive experience in academia, which included a stint as provost at the University of Florida and president of USC, Youkey said Sorensen offers valuable insight.

"It's exactly people like Dr. Sorensen that we should be contracting with," Youkey said. "This is a man who was provost of one university and president of another. I'm not sure why that would make him less credible."