The American Hospital Association has discontinued its long-running practice of preparing and sending annual reports about its activities to AHA members, MODERN HEALTHCARE*has learned.
The elimination of the report is the latest in a series of moves by the Chicago-based trade group under President Richard Davidson that appear to increase control over information it provides to its members and the public.
The decision to eliminate the report comes during a period in which the AHA was caught off guard by the disclosure of information that had not been widely disseminated to AHA members. That included the failure of a deal to sell the AHA's old Chicago headquarters building, the involuntary departure of two senior executives whom the AHA said left voluntarily to pursue other career opportunities, its decision to diversify into several for-profit business lines and its decision to essentially close it historic health services library.
Events such as those typically were disclosed to AHA members in the association's annual report or in the AHA's annual treasurer's report released to members and the public. Now, both reports have been eliminated.
AHA executives contend the association isn't limiting access to information about itself. They say the AHA is improving communication with its members through new channels, such as direct facsimiles and on-line computer services.
Richard Wade, the AHA's senior vice president for communications, called the annual report a "dinosaur" whose time has passed. "Our members want evidence of the value of their membership more than just once a year," he said. "We need to communicate with them in a more timely way."
In place of the annual report, the AHA has been sending facsimiles almost daily with bulletins about what the AHA is doing on the advocacy and representation front, Wade said. And starting this summer, the AHA will begin communicating directly with hospital executives through personalized letters and quarterly reports on internal AHA developments, he said.
"When there are internal things that the board thinks members need to know about, we'll have the ability to do more personalized communication," he said.
Among the AHA's recent moves concerning information:
In May 1995, it released to members a scaled-down version of its annual report. Historically, the AHA's annual report contained a general breakdown of where the association's revenues came from and how the money was spent. The breakdown wasn't included in last year's report, which covered the AHA's activities in 1994. At that time, Wade said the financial information wasn't included because it wasn't available and the association didn't want to delay the release of the annual report. The AHA published it in August in its weekly newspaper.
Last June, it replaced its annual 60-page treasurer's report, complete with audited financial statements, with a new one-page treasurer's report on the AHA's finances. The new version, sent directly to members of the AHA's House of Delegates, doesn't include detailed audited financial information. Until last year, the AHA made the old version available to members, the public, the news media and anyone who attended the AHA's summer convention.
Last October, the group changed the way it makes available to the public its annual tax filing with the Internal Revenue Service. The AHA is a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(6) of the federal tax code, and its annual filing with the IRS, known as Form 990, is a public document. Federal law requires all tax-exempt organizations to permit public inspection of their Form 990s during business hours at their headquarters. The AHA typically went beyond the requirements and made copies of its Form 990s available to interested parties. But last fall, the AHA retreated to the letter of the law, permitting interested parties to review its 1994 Form 990 only at AHA headquarters with an AHA employee present.
Last month, it denied MODERN HEALTHCARE*access to its on-line computer site, "AHA Forum." "The forum is private and for use by AHA members and allied hospital associations," said George Young, director of AHA computer network services. "The purpose was to increase communications among our members, and having news media people on the system would inhibit their sharing of experiences."
Few hospital executives contacted by MODERN HEALTHCARE*objected to the changes in information-access policies. "If I want specific information, I can get it from the AHA," said John Neal, administrator of Haskell County Hospital in Stigler, Okla., and a member of the AHA's House of Delegates. "That's better than 60-page reports sitting in a file or garbage can."
Neal was referring to the change from a lengthy treasurer's report to the new one-page version. The AHA's audited financial statements still are available to delegates upon request.
The reduction in paperwork is much appreciated by delegates like Thomas Nord, chief executive officer of Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie, Wyo.
"I get a lot of information as a delegate," he said. "I see no problem with getting a one-page report. I have no time to plow through 60 pages."
A spokeswoman for Gail Warden, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit who chaired the AHA's board of trustees last year, when many of the disclosure policies were changed, said Warden "wouldn't care to comment" on those policies and referred inquiries to the AHA's communications office in Washington.
Since Davidson took over as association president in 1991, members of the AHA's board of trustees have followed a policy against speaking to the press about AHA operations.
Wade acknowledged that many of the changes have reduced public and media access to information about the AHA, but the changes are "designed to communicate with members that pay us dues."