Former Harvard counsel to co-chair AMA ethics panel. Former Harvard University general counsel Daniel Steiner will co-chair the American Medical Association's task force on ethical and professional standards. Steiner is a published expert on institutional conflicts of interest. The 12-member task force, appointed last week by the AMA, includes eight representatives from industry, law, healthcare, academia, and the fields of medical and institutional ethics. The four association representatives include AMA President-elect Nancy Dickey, M.D., and board member Timothy Flaherty, M.D., who will be co-chair. The task force, created in the wake of the AMA's controversial endorsement agreement with Sunbeam Corp., will draft an "initial communication" for release at the AMA House of Delegates meeting in December. A final report will go to the AMA board of trustees next spring.
Repeal of Oregon suicide law defeated. By a 60-40 margin, Oregon voters have defeated a ballot referendum last week that would have repealed a state law legalizing physician-assisted suicide. The law, known as the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, actually went into effect Oct. 27, when a federal appellate court lifted an injunction that had blocked it. Under the law, a capable adult who according to two physicians has less than six months to live may request and be given a fatal dose of medication. A federal district court struck down the law as unconstitutional, but the decision was reversed on jurisdictional issues on appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court without ruling on the merits of the law.
Bankrupt psych chain settles fraud charges. Bankrupt Vendell Healthcare, a former psychiatric hospital chain based in Nashville, last week agreed to pay the federal government $4.2 million to settle charges it overbilled federal health insurance programs and offered kickbacks to doctors for patient referrals. The government had charged that two Florida hospitals formerly owned by Vendell and affiliated outpatient clinics admitted and treated federally insured patients in psychiatric facilities without regard to medical necessity. The government charged Vendell with signing contracts with physicians to pay kickbacks for patient referrals. The programs included Medicare, the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. Vendell declared bankruptcy in March.
Apria names new president. Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Apria Healthcare Group last week appointed Lawrence Higby, 52, as president and chief operating officer of the $1.2 billion home-care company. He takes the spot vacated by Steven Plochocki, 45, who resigned in September to pursue other interests. Higby will be responsible for Apria's home-care services, including daily operation of its 350 field offices and sales and marketing. He is scheduled to join Apria Nov. 10. Jeremy Jones will continue as Apria's chairman and chief executive officer. Since 1994 Higby has been president and COO of 76 Products Co., the refining and marketing unit of Unocal Corp. Apria is in the midst of a restructuring and expects to announce a decision this month regarding a possible sale or merger.
Incarnate Word joins Tenet's buying group. Tenet Healthcare Corp. said last week that Incarnate Word Health System, San Antonio, has become the first not-for-profit system to sign a contract to purchase supplies through for-profit Tenet's BuyPower group purchasing arm. Under the two-year, nonexclusive pact, Incarnate Word is expected to buy $145 million in pharmaceuticals and medical-surgical supplies through BuyPower.
Venture formed to help docs use Internet. Shared Medical Systems, a Malvern, Pa.-based healthcare information and services company, has formed a joint venture with Orbis Broadcast Group, a Chicago-based producer of healthcare TV and on-line educational programming. Called CommuniHealth, the venture aims to help health systems and physicians use the Internet and to improve professional and consumer access to healthcare information.