Top Health Official Awaits Hearing on Nomination
Questions Raised About Entries on Resume
By Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 10, 2004; Page A17
The physician nominated nearly a year ago to the nation's top-ranking health policy post has yet to receive a Senate hearing -- and may not be considered for confirmation -- amid questions about whether she fabricated or inflated portions of her résumé.
Cristina V. Beato was named last July as assistant secretary of health, one of the top policy officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, but has yet to explain several discrepancies regarding her credentials. These include claims that she served as medical attache at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey, received a master's degree in public health from the University of Wisconsin, "established" an occupational health clinic at the University of New Mexico and published a scientific paper on inert gases.
At several institutions listed on Beato's résumé, officials said they could find no evidence of her service, while former colleagues at the University of New Mexico and an affiliated hospital in Albuquerque disputed assertions she made, saying at a minimum she had puffed up her role in several projects.
In January, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), the ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, sent Beato a nine-page letter inquiring about the discrepancies.
HHS spokesman Kevin Keane said yesterday that Beato and staff lawyers were "in the process of going back and answering the questions being raised. We're making sure we provide thorough answers." Until then, Keane said, no one from the Bush administration would discuss her nomination.
She has been serving as the acting assistant secretary, described on the HHS Web site as "the principal advisor on health policy and medical and scientific matters to the secretary." Her responsibilities include overseeing the U.S. Public Health Service, construction of a women's hospital in Afghanistan and promotion of "research integrity and ethics." Her predecessor, Eve Slater, left in February 2003.
"The administration has the right to put forward nominees of its choosing," committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said in a statement. "There is much in her background to recommend her for this post, and the administration is working to respond to the concerns that have been raised." But sources at HHS and in Congress, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said there is a growing likelihood the Senate will not vote on her nomination.
Former colleagues in Albuquerque were most surprised by Beato's assertions that she was "one of the principal leaders who revolutionized medical education in American universities by implementing the Problem Based Learning curriculum." The curriculum was developed while Beato was in medical school.
"That's an exaggeration," said Gary Rosenberg, chairman of the neurology department at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, the university's hospital system.
R. Philip Eaton, vice president of the medical center, said others initiated the program but Beato deserves credit for expanding it.
In several instances, Beato's résumé is vague. Under professional experience, she lists "medical consultant" at the Technical-Vocational Institute and Presbyterian Senior Health Spectrum in Albuquerque and a 12-year relationship with the Sheet Metal Workers in Washington. None of the organizations has any record on Beato, nor do officials at the State Department, who said they have never heard term "medical attache."
Under educational experience, Beato lists: "successful candidate, occupational medicine, MPH (master's of public health), University of Wisconsin, 1995." A university spokeswoman said the school does not offer such a degree.
Other sensitive charges center on Beato's role as a hospital administrator in New Mexico, trying to keep costs down at a time when immigrants and uninsured patients were flooding the emergency room. A number of lawyers, patient advocates and physicians said Beato often appeared to put the university's budgetary concerns ahead of poor patients' health needs.
As chief medical officer at the university, Beato was sued for refusing to treat Maribel Loya, a comatose teen, and her premature infant. That case, in which Beato was named a defendant, was settled out of court. Lawyer Nancy L. Simmons said she could not divulge the details but was "very happy with the settlement."
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