Through one single act of generosity, Brooklyn's Long Island College Hospital is coming into big money, $160 million to be exact. That's nearly two-thirds of what the struggling hospital will generate in revenues this year.
Having checked with several groups that track philanthropic gifts, hospital officials believe it's the single largest bequest ever made to a hospital.
What's even more surprising is that the benefactors, Donald and Mildred Othmer, were such ordinary people. Donald, a chemical engineering professor and native of Omaha, Neb., served on the board of regents of Long Island College Hospital for decades. The couple came into their wealth like many of today's millionaires: from the stock market. The Othmers were lucky to have invested with another well-known Omaha native, Warren Buffett.
Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has produced stunning returns for the lucky few who invested early. The Othmers' estate, worth nearly $800 million, grew from an initial investment of $1.6 million. The couple bought the stock in 1970 at a modest $42 per share. Last week Berkshire Hathaway shares were going for about $76,800 apiece.
Although the bequest is tied up in litigation brought by a niece, the matter is on the verge of being settled. The Othmers have left their wealth to a number of organizations, but Long Island College Hospital is the second-largest beneficiary after Brooklyn's Polytechnic University, where Donald Othmer taught. The school stands to net $190 million.
The Othmer name already graces one building on the hospital campus and its cancer center, honoring previous gifts totaling a couple of million dollars. But with $160 million on the way, hospital officials plan to invest the principal and spend the interest on primary care and other undetermined services.
It's quite a reversal of fortune for the 516-bed hospital. Since coming on board in late 1996, Chief Executive Officer Donald Snell has been engaged in turning around the troubled operation. Through layoffs and re-engineering, he eliminated $25 million in expenses last year and plans to take out an additional $22 million this year. If all goes well, this year's bottom line on operations will be in the black for the first time in five years, he says.
And thanks to the Othmers, the hospital can take a giant leap in plans to build its primary-care base.
More big giving. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, John Breaux (D-La.) has been deeply involved in healthcare issues in the past. But earlier this year he was named chairman of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. The panel is slated to release its recommendations in March 1999 on how to overhaul the Medicare program to make sure it's financially sound for the baby boom generation.
When Breaux became chairman of the commission, he also became very popular with all kinds of health groups. How have those groups shown their budding interest?
According to figures released earlier this month by the Center for Responsive Politics, Breaux had received more than $230,000 in campaign contributions from healthcare groups from January 1997 through March 1998. That's already more than double the $112,000 Breaux received from healthcare groups in the six years previous to that period.
Breaux is the top recipient of contributions from a wide variety of healthcare political action committees including those of the American Hospital Association, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., Tenet Healthcare Corp., PacifiCare Health Systems and the American Health Care Association.
Breaux, who was first elected to the Senate in 1986, is up for re-election this November. He is being challenged by Republican James Joseph Donelon. Through the 15 months ended in March, Donelon had collected exactly $3,450 in total contributions from the healthcare industry, none from PACs.
Glad they made that clear. When Senate Republican leaders unveiled an outline of their managed-care regulation plan last week, they made a point of saying they had not produced the measure as a way to counter the Democratic "Patients' Bill of Rights Act" introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass).
"This is a good piece of legislation; it is not a response to the Kennedy bill," said Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa).
To make sure no one gets the two bills confused, the GOP leaders gave theirs the title "Patients' Bill of Rights and Health Care Quality Act." For short, they are referring to it as the "Patients' Bill of Rights."
Now who would think they are purposely trying to confuse the issue?
Chatty docs. Two on-line services are getting together to create an international Internet community for doctors.
Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Physicians' Online and Germany's Health Online Service multimedica have launched a joint venture to enable their member physicians to share clinical information in secure, physician-only chat rooms.
To avoid translation problems, all discussion will be in English.
Physicians' Online said the move is the first step in its plan to build a global Internet medical community that will connect physicians in North America, Europe and Asia, providing it can find other on-line partners with strict verification standards.
"With globalization of nearly every industry, a worldwide network for doctors is the next step in the evolution of the medical profession," says Alexander Broich, president and chief executive officer of Berlin-based HOS multimedica.
The official word. As coverage of that certain computer problem proliferates, everyone's struggling over a standard descriptive phrase: Is it the Year-2000 Problem, the Y2K Bug, the Millennium Date Glitch, the Chip Blip?
Thanks to the Department of Veterans Affairs, we may have our authoritative answer, and it must be so because it already has been reduced to an acronym in a statement from Kenneth Kizer, M.D., undersecretary for health. To quote: ". . . aggressive and concerted action is needed over the next 18 months to prevent a Millennium Bug Syndrome (MBS)."
There you have it.