A routine recent appointment to the board of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations became controversial when the appointee was named to the board of Tenet Healthcare Corp. last week.
The Rev. Lawrence Biondi, president of Saint Louis University, a Jesuit priest and an expert on patient-doctor communication, engineered the controversial sale of the university's hospital to Tenet last year for $300 million (Dec. 22-29, 1997, p. 2).
In mid-July, he was named one of six "public" commissioners on the JCAHO.
The Joint Commission's critics are wondering how a director of the second-largest investor-owned hospital company is qualified to fill a seat reserved for representatives of the public on the JCAHO board.
"How is he disinterested?" asked Claudia Schlosberg, a lawyer at the National Health Law Program in Washington. "Now he sits on the Tenet board. If there are only six slots on the Joint Commission board for public representatives, there's a question whether he's a disinterested representative of the public."
Biondi, 59, was out of the country and unavailable for comment. JCAHO officials didn't respond to requests for comment.
If nothing else, Biondi's double appointment soothes a festering sore at the Federation of American Health Systems, the lobbying group for the investor-owned healthcare sector. In January its president, Thomas Scully, complained, "None of the 28 people on the (Joint Commission) board is from investor-owned hospitals."
The American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association appoint seven members of the 28-person Joint Commission board each. The rest of the board consists of three people from the American College of Physicians, three from the American College of Surgeons, one from the American Dental Association and one nursing representative. Six seats are reserved for "public" members.
Those public members are not exactly members of the general public. They are representatives of organizations that have a peripheral interest in healthcare but are not direct providers.
Scully, apprised of Biondi's appointment as a "public" commissioner, said: "I hadn't thought of that angle, quite frankly. I'd be very surprised if anybody at JCAHO knew he was going to be on Tenet's board."