State hospital associations are desperately seeking support for a bill that some say would gut the federal False Claims Act.
The bill, backed by the American Hospital Association, would create safe harbors for hospitals with compliance plans and providers who receive incorrect information from their Medicare carriers. The bill would also significantly lower fines imposed on hospitals and make it more difficult for the government to prove its cases against providers.
For example, the Louisiana Hospital Association, through its newsletters, has been pleading with members to urge their lawmakers to co-sponsor the bill.
"The threat posed by this legislation to the Department of Justice, in its vigorous use of the Federal False Claims Act, has brought them to the negotiating table; however, no real results have been forthcoming," said the April 9 edition of the newsletter. "This legislation MUST BE ENACTED."
Night of the living drugs. Some people believe that the souls of the dead, if they have unfinished business among the living, haunt people or places.
But no one at Cincinnati-based Omnicare thought the drugs of the dead would return to haunt the company.
Omnicare, the nation's largest independent pharmacy for eldercare providers, and its Belleville, Ill., subsidiary, Home Pharmacy Services, agreed to pay $5.3 million to settle charges that they seized the drugs of dead nursing home patients and resold them to Medicaid for use by other nursing home patients.
Federal and state laws require pharmacies to either credit Medicaid for unused pharmaceuticals or to dispose of them.
Three whistleblowers brought the case to the attention of federal authorities and will share an award of $871,000 for their spirited efforts.
The three former employees were concerned the recycled drugs were no longer effective after being reheated during repeated repackaging. No one kept track of the drugs' expiration dates, they said. One whistleblower added that some white acetaminophen tablets were recycled so many times that they had turned a ghastly shade of gray.
Home Pharmacy Services, acquired by Omnicare in 1992, provides services to the residents of more than 100 nursing homes within a 100-mile radius of Belleville.
Perhaps the company can rest in peace now that the alleged reincarnation has ended.*
Real hospital stories, part I. National advocates for the mentally ill are asking Utah's governor to stop the "barbaric" and "dehumanizing" haunted house staged each year at the Utah State Mental Hospital in Provo.
In a letter, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill told Gov. Mike Leavitt that while the haunted mansion has been a Utah institution for more than 25 years, "we know of no other such freak show in the country.
"Why is Utah reinforcing such negative stereotypes and perpetuating stigma against mental illness on an entire generation of children?" said the letter from Michael Malloy, director of the alliance's campaign to end discrimination.
"Certainly the points that are made here deserve serious review, which we will ask the appropriate people in state government to do," says Leavitt's spokeswoman, Vicki Varela. "The letter raises some legitimate concerns."
The castle originally was the idea of patients who wanted to celebrate Halloween with the staff and fellow patients.
In time, it evolved into a public event and a fund-raiser for the hospital's recreational therapy program. Ten or 15 patients join up with the staff and community volunteers to create the castle.
"I do not know which is more offensive-the fact that this horror show is allowed to continue or that the hospital administrators admitted to knowing that part of the draw each Halloween is the public's fear of mental illness," Malloy says.
Real hospital stories, part II. Meanwhile, in Detroit, a hospital is busy apologizing for placing a note on the door of an elderly, white patient's room asking black people to stay out.
"A mistake was made, and we apologize," says Robert Johnson, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Detroit Medical Center, which operates Grace-Sinai Hospital.
Relatives of the 90-year-old man say he is senile and feared black people. They reportedly asked that no black nurses, housekeeping staffers or other workers be allowed to enter his room on the hospital's fifth-floor pulmonary-care unit.
The nursing supervisor posted a sign on April 14 asking black people to stay out of the patient's room. The next day, after nurses and other employees complained, hospital officials removed the sign.
The patient was transferred to another floor, where he was receiving care from some black workers.
In the wake of the incident, all employees at the hospital will receive cultural sensitivity training, Johnson says.
Ageless wonders. Centuries ago, the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon was one of the first to look for the fountain of youth. Although he never found it, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association has honored five people who may have.
In its Ageless Heroes program, the Chicago-based association searched nationwide for seniors who epitomize youthful spirit and inspire others to live fuller lives.
After a three-month search, the Blues chose exemplary seniors in five categories: vitality, or extraordinary physical or mental abilities; community involvement; love of learning; creativity; and new beginnings-initiating new endeavors late in life.
Among the heroes, runner Anne Clarke, 88, will receive the "new beginnings" award. Clarke started running when she was 64 under recommendation from an exercise instructor. Since then, she has competed in more than 500 races, including eight marathons. She holds a total of 40 national running records including one for the 75-and-over age group in the Chicago Marathon, where she crossed the finish line with a time of 4: 48: 09.
Clarke credits running with keeping her young, pain-free and without need of medication, according to the Blues association.
Clarke, along with four other seniors, will be recognized this week at the Ageless Heroes awards ceremony in Chicago. Former President George Bush, himself still vigorous at age 74, will give the keynote speech.