The long-delayed "60 Minutes" report on Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. likely will air in the next few weeks, but it isn't the only journalistic probe of the healthcare giant in the works.
The New York Times has had a reporter working full time on a Columbia story for months. That story is expected to delve into the Nashville, Tenn.-based chain's rapid growth, its aggressive business practices, its campaign against tax-exempt organizations and its physician investment strategy.
The "60 Minutes" report will focus on Columbia's proposed acquisition of Cleveland-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Ohio. Reporter Mike Wallace grilled Blues' spokesman William Silverman about whether the insurer's top three executives have a conflict of interest because they stand to pocket $19 million in payouts if the Blues is sold to Columbia for $299 million, far below recent estimates of the Blues' market value.
Silverman wrote about his Wallace interview-he spent part of it wondering whether Wallace was wearing a hairpiece-in a commentary in the Cleveland Plain Dealer headlined "Bushwhacked by `60 Minutes.'*"
The "60 Minutes" story was delayed for several months for unspecified reasons as the show changed producers and the story's news angle was revised. Producer Carl Ginsburg had been preparing a multifaceted look at Columbia, but sources said new producer Walt Bogdanich proposed a more focused angle on the Blues' acquisition.
Reports of the New York Times story and the "60 Minutes" show caused Columbia's stock price to rise slower than the market average during a sustained rally last week, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Building blocks.A couple of city blocks in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood could be the site of more healthcare construction than many states will see in a year.
With Northwestern Memorial Hospital just beginning the third year of its four-year replacement project, the academic medical center's $580 million in construction would seem enough to keep a host of contractors busy.
Now comes Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago's announcement this month that it will undergo its own $37.2 million rehabilitation in the next 18 months, the first major upgrade of the 155-bed facility in two decades. The institute said about two-thirds of its construction budget will go toward mechanical upgrades such as air and water improvements. Patient rooms also will be upgraded.
At Northwestern Memorial, officials said the new 2 million-square-foot hospital's last steel beam is going up Oct. 30th, but it will take two more years before the first patient is treated at the facility.
What Medicare?Two years ago, Third Millennium, a public policy group representing the so-called "Generation X," published an oft-cited survey stating that twice as many young adults believed unidentified flying objects exist as believed Social Security will be around by the time they retire.
Now the group has topped the flying-saucer report with a Medicare-related survey. Earlier this month, a survey conducted for the New York-based group found that 53% of 18- to 34-year-olds believe the television soap opera "General Hospital" will last longer than the Medicare program. "This poll should act as a clarion call to candidates of all parties: Fix this system now, or you'll permanently lose the support of this jaded generation," said Richard Thau, Third Millennium's executive director.
PR donation.Naples, Fla.-based Community Care of America appears to be getting involved with the National Rural Health Association, at least financially.
In a report of donors to the NRHA's 1996 fund-raising campaign, Deborah Lau, CCA's executive vice president and chief operating officer, was listed as donating between $1,000 and $2,500. She wouldn't return calls for comment.
The NRHA doesn't disclose specific dollar contributions, but Lau was among the top four contributors who gave more than $1,000. The entire list included more than 70 individuals, businesses and healthcare organization donors.
Supporting the NRHA may be a smart move by CCA, considering no other investor-owned hospital chains appear on the list. It's also good public relations for CCA, which has had its share of troubles this year. It had to cancel a second public stock offering earlier this year, hire a new chief executive officer and this month began contemplating selling the company, which leases, owns or manages two rural hospitals and 54 long-term-care facilities in eight states (Oct. 14, p. 17).
A marrow victory. Finding matches for organ and bone marrow transplants is an arduous process in most cases, but mixed-race patients present special problems. And nowhere are there more multiracial residents than Hawaii, with its mix of Asians, ethnic Hawaiians and blacks.
That's why the case of Alana Dung was so important to the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry at St. Francis Medical Center in Honolulu. The 2-year-old girl had a rare and aggressive form of leukemia known as acute myeloid type M-7 leukemia, which is seen in less than 1% of all U.S. cancer patients. Alana became front-page news in local papers and got attention in Asia and on the West Coast. While a bone marrow donor was ultimately found in Taiwan and the surgery was performed in Seattle, it was back in Hawaii that the greatest impact of the story was felt.
Some 30,800 people in Hawaii responded to an appeal for potential donors, all becoming part of an international bone marrow registry of which St. Francis is a member. The drive produced more than 200 potential matches for people needing marrow transplants around the world. The effort doubled the registry's prior membership and donor matches, officials said.