Events at the Baxter International annual meeting late last month don't sketch a pretty picture for the troubled giant, which has lost about one-fourth of its stock value in the past year.
Shareholders carped about executives' use of Baxter's plane for personal travel and the format of its financial presentation. Their main complaint, of course, was the dramatic descent of Baxter's stock value. The meeting also brought a barely-there standing ovation and, just like last year, a call or two-quickly rejected-for the resignation of Baxter Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Vernon R. Loucks Jr.
Most telling, perhaps, is the outcome of two shareholder proposals, which management opposed. Some 35.5% of shareholders voted to adopt cumulative voting for the board of directors, a change intended to give minority interests more power. A second proposal by the New York City Employees Retirement System, a loud and frequent Baxter critic, also garnered a suprising share of votes. Some 30.3% of shareholders said that the offices of chairman and chief executive, now held by Mr. Loucks, should be separated.
Polishing the apple. New York City's public hospitals could use a strong dose of good PR.
Bruised by past reports of poor quality and assailed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who wants to privatize some facilities, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp. is, frankly, an image-maker's nightmare.
Unless something is done to restore confidence, HHC could lose patients and access to the capital markets, says David R. Jones, an HHC board member and president and chief executive officer of the Community Service Society, a local patient advocacy group. The city's illegal aliens and residents of the city's African-American and Latino neighborhoods continue to rely on HHC facilities for healthcare services. He said the city doesn't want them to think that "to be assigned to an HHC facility is to be assigned to die."
So, at HHC's last board meeting, Mr. Jones proposed running a series of radio advertisements to rebuild credibility. He said the ads should tell the public what HHC is doing to change and tout the corporation's latest quality-of-care certifications. Fifteen of the city's 16 acute- and long-term-care hospitals are approved by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, two of which have earned the agency's top accreditation status. One facility has been conditionally accredited and another hasn't applied for accreditation.
HHC President Bruce Siegel, M.D., heartily endorsed the idea. "That's something we can do and will do."
Taking inventory. Tax-exempt hospitals now can assess and demonstrate how they're improving a community's health status with new software customized by VHA.
The nation's largest alliance of not-for-profit hospitals has produced "Community Benefit Inventory: A Comprehensive Guide to Tracking Community Benefits," which is now available to any tax-exempt hospital. VHA's development of the computer program is believed to be the first comprehensive effort to help hospitals keep track of the community benefit programs necessary to retain their tax-exempt status.
In addition, the VHA software is compatible with the Internal Revenue Service's Form 990 that tax-exempt institutions are required to file.
Dan Bourque, VHA's senior vice president for information and research, said the program will enable hospitals to determine how they're improving the health of an entire community or a specific demographic group, such as women over age 35.
The software costs $850, including the disk, a user's manual and training. It's available through the VHA or from Lyon Software, the Sylvania, Ohio-based firm that developed the original product. VHA customized the software, and its members receive a discount on the package.
PEACE-makers. Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center has found a convincing way to speak to streetwise New York City kids about the dangers of guns, drugs and violence.
Members of its PEACE program, all permanantly disabled and many confined to wheelchairs, use rap songs and personal stories to try to get kids to stay in school and pursue their dreams. PEACE, which stands for People Engaged in Activities to Change their Environment, began a year ago under the direction of Octavio Marin, deputy executive director of Bronx-Lebanon's Special Care Center. The program receives no funding, but Mr. Marin hopes to pursue private grants.
Ten of the 15 active PEACE members are residents of the 240-bed Special Care Center, which houses people with AIDS and spinal cord injuries. The others volunteer their time. In addition to helping kids in the community, the program teaches the disabled youths to accept their disabilities, Mr. Marin said.
Many PEACE members are former drug dealers or gun sellers. They are people like Raymond Cruz, a 23-year-old who was shot seven times in a dispute with a drug dealer. He admits to a past he's not proud of and wants to use his story to keep other kids out of violent situations. "I think the best way to deal with this is through school," he said.
At odds. With the Kentucky Derby just past, Outliers is reminded that healthcare reform often has been likened to a horse race. Who knows, maybe the smart Las Vegas touts will begin laying odds on reform plans.
If so, they may want to call Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio). As the Education and Labor Committee labor-management relations subcommittee worked last week to pass a healthcare reform plan, Mr. Boehner and Chairman Pat Williams (D-Mont.) got into an argument about whose plan had less of a chance of passing Congress.
Finally, Mr. Boehner asked Mr. Williams if he "would like to make a wager as to whether this Congress will send to the president a bill that includes universal coverage. I say no. The second question is whether the president will sign the bill we send him that does not include universal coverage. I say he will." Mr. Williams agreed to the bet, and Mr. Boehner concluded by saying that "hopefully we can agree on the amount of the wager."