When budget-drafting time rolls around in Washington, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown is no stranger to hyperbole as he describes the condition in which tight budgets have left the department's 750-facility healthcare system. And, according to reports coming out of the White House, Brown this year is giving his cutback yarns a Yuletide spin.
According to sources who have spoken with White House budget officials, Brown has said that belt-tightening at the VA has left at least one Christmas tree in the agency's Washington headquarters with no lights. The sources said Brown also told White House officials he was forced to scale back a holiday staff party.
VA spokesman Jim Holley said there is a large artificial tree near Brown's office that doesn't have lights, but he added, "To my knowledge, we never have lights." As for parties, Holley said Brown, as usual, will play host to a "meet and greet" for VA headquarters employees in his office.
"The Grinch did not steal Christmas at the VA," Holley said.
In the office of VA Health Undersecretary Kenneth Kizer, M.D., meanwhile, an artificial tree was assembled by an employee who was not on the VA's clock at the time. The tree has lights, but they are dark; nobody wanted to spend government money to buy the extension cord needed to plug them in.
An entrepreneurial accountant who made $2.1 million by catching the Minnesota Medicaid program shorting providers is still looking for another payoff.
After the initial settlement with 52 hospitals represented by accountant Chuck Ulrich, the state of Minnesota decided to pay off other potential litigants with about $5 million. Ulrich wants a share of that take, too (March 4, p. 84). He's trying to overturn a U.S. District Court's dismissal of an unjust enrichment suit that he filed against five hospitals most benefiting from the state's offer.
The hospitals are indignant. Ulrich is acting like a TV repairman who already was paid for his work but now wants extra because a roommate also watches the TV, said Jay Christiansen, an attorney for the hospitals at Faegre & Benson, Minneapolis. They've asked for damages and double costs to compensate for Ulrich's "frivolous appeal." The hospitals are 458-bed Hennepin County Medical Center, Minneapolis; 162-bed St. Joseph's Medical Center, Brainerd; 258-bed St. Luke's Hospital, Duluth; 325-bed St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Center, St. Paul; and 554-bed University of Minnesota Hospitals and Clinics, Minneapolis. A hearing before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis hasn't been scheduled.
Flagstaff (Ariz.) Medical Center couldn't sell its old phone system, so it's donating it to another hospital-in Eritrea.
That's a small country in northeast Africa that broke away from Ethiopia in 1993. The system was shipped last week and will be installed this summer at 1,500-bed Mekane Hiwet Hospital, located in the Eritrean capital of Asmara.
"The old system is only 10 years old and still in good shape, but the best offer we got on the resale market was $5,000, even though it's worth $50,000 to $60,000," said Don Richardson, director of telecommunications for Northern Arizona Healthcare, Flagstaff Medical Center's parent company. "Because (Eritrea's) needs are so great, it will have a tremendous impact, and we feel good about that."
Flagstaff outgrew the system, mainly because it had to communicate with sister campuses in Cottonwood and Sedona, Ariz.
Richardson identified Mekane Hiwet's needs through an acquaintance on the faculty of Northern Arizona University who is from Eritrea.
Richardson added that Flagstaff and Mekane Hiwet will start building a sister hospital relationship, which may include the future exchange of information and personnel.
Drew Barrymore, healthcare activist?
That's correct. The actress from "E.T.," who has gained notoriety over the years for drug abuse, tattoos and baring her breasts for David Letterman and the New York Times, has launched the Female Health Foundation.
In a statement, Barrymore declared that the foundation "will play the crucial role of informing women about how they can protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS and helping them to better communicate with their partners about sex."
Barrymore will be featured in a television public service announcement that will begin airing early next year.
Of course, Barrymore is not acting alone. The Female Health Foundation is an offshoot of the Chicago-based Female Health Co., manufacturers of the female condom. According to the statement, the condom is known in the United States as "Reality," and as "Femidom" in the rest of the world.
Outliers thinks that folks at American Health Network, the new health and medicine cable channel, have way too much time on their hands.
The channel commissioned a national poll of 1,016 Americans ages 18 and older on Santa Claus' health status. Judging by the results, old St. Nick could be in line for coronary-bypass surgery.
The poll found that 41% of Americans believe old Kris Kringle has been hoisting the feed bag too often, while 23% said overwork is his biggest problem. High cholesterol (13%) and lack of sleep (11%) were also mentioned by a number of survey respondents, while 6% said frostbite topped the list of Santa's health concerns.
Not content to leave the hilarity at that, physicians who host programs for the channel had suggestions to improve Kris Kringle's health.
Winnie King, M.D., host of "Ask the Doctor," notes, "Santa's obesity increases his risk of heart disease and cancer. We need Santa to be around for a while, so we should place him on a low-fat diet."
According to Rob Danoff, D.O., host of "Ask the Family Doctor," Santa's irregular work schedule causes stress, which is one of the major causes of accidents. "I would suggest that Santa get more rest by enlisting the help of his elves to drive the sleigh," he said.