HCFA caused a flap at a Senate hearing last week when it refused to appear following the testimony of two citizen witnesses who chronicled their nursing home nightmares for Congress.
The agency cited HHS' policy on congressional testimony, which stipulates that HCFA presents its case before the appearance of any citizen witnesses. "This policy predates the Clinton administration and represents a courtesy routinely extended by congressional committees in the past," HCFA wrote to Sen. Charles Grassley (D-Iowa), the committee's chairman, in a letter dated March 22, the day of the hearing.
However, a representative of HHS' inspector general's office did testify after two women told Grassley and other senators about their struggles to get state investigators to listen to their complaints about poor nursing home care.
Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), ranking member of the committee, called HCFA's reason for not testifying "totally unacceptable."
Grassley echoed that sentiment, saying, "The department may be trying to convince the public it cares, but this no-show doesn't help that cause. The public might confuse this with arrogance."
Testy, testy. It seems MODERN HEALTHCARE wasn't the only organization to publicly question healthcare lobbyist Deborah Steelman's presence on the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare (March 1, p. 32).
The Ralph Nader-founded watchdog group Public Citizen also released a report accusing Steelman of a conflict of interest because her firm, Steelman Health Strategies, received $2.9 million in lobbying fees from insurers and drug companies in 1997 and the first half of 1998.
Steelman contends that she informed her clients that she would not represent their interests on the commission.
And Steelman isn't taking too kindly to those who would challenge her seat on the commission. When the Washington Post's "Special Interests" column asked her about it, Steelman said, "This is old, old, old. When you can't beat someone's ideas, you trash their character."
Spending spree. When a debt-encumbered underdog health system declares bankruptcy, it can use all the positive spin it can muster.
But bankrupt Primary Health Systems, which runs four acute-care hospitals in the competitive Cleveland market may have taken that idea a little too far. It estimates in its Chapter 11 filing that it will spend $22,000 a month to try to keep physicians and patients from fleeing.
The fee charged by PR firm BSMG Worldwide is "reasonable and appropriate," according to Dennis Simon, the turnaround executive hired to rescue Primary.
Outliers contacted several attorneys unrelated to the case for a reality price-check. Their unanimous conclusion? BSMG's rate seems excessive.
"I can see where having to convince people that you're not one of these greedy for-profit providers anymore and that you're going to be community oriented . . . is a tremendous PR battle," concedes Ivan Woods, a bankruptcy lawyer with Baker & Hostetler in Dallas. But at $22,000 a month, "I'd want to know how they're spending it."
"That seems like a fairly steep price for public relations consulting for a case that size," agrees Keith Shapiro, national co-chair of the bankruptcy practice with Greenberg & Traurig's Chicago office and vice president of the American Bankruptcy Institute.
Puttin' on the Ritz. For 89 years Medline Industries has been making specialty medical supplies and apparel. While its workers churn out such items as surgical gowns, its business staff has been required to wear coats and ties.
Now the Mundelein, Ill.-based privately held company is letting its 1,300 headquarters employees go casual, but not without one last day of formal dress. And we mean formal. On April 1 workers will be encouraged (though not required) to wear black tie and evening gowns, before returning the next day in khakis and loafers.
"It's not an April Fool's Day joke, although that's what everyone thinks when I tell them that we are finally going business casual," says Medline President Andy Mills.
Already employees are hard at work on their ensembles. Last week Melissa Lockhart, a 29-year-old sales administrator, said she would check out "a girlfriend's allegedly poofy prom dress" for the event. As a backup, Lockhart's parents, whose hobby is re-enacting Civil War battles, have agreed to lend her an 1860s-style hoop skirt.
Heart monitor. Hays (Kan.) Medical Center, a small rural hospital with a big challenge, has summoned a famous pioneer in heart surgery to put the town of 18,000 on the map for cardiac care.
The 161-bed hospital earlier this month christened its 6-month-old surgery center the Michael E. DeBakey Heart Institute of Kansas at ceremonies attended by the 90-year-old Houston heart specialist. DeBakey had assisted in selecting the institute's first cardiovascular surgeon, Steven Bailey, M.D., who trained under a physician who in turn trained under DeBakey, says Hays spokesman Stan Unruh.
The DeBakey connection comes cost-effectively-it costs Hays "a hotel room and a plane ticket," Unruh says. "We don't abuse his time, and we make very good use of his expertise." DeBakey is scheduled to make quarterly visits to review data and evaluate the program.