The American Hospital Association made a major omission when it released a report compiled by the American Association of Medical Colleges on the impact of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. The report said Medicare cuts had sent hospitals into financial convulsions.
Topping the list of sob stories about the declining fortunes of teaching hospitals was Georgetown University Hospital, which in fact lost money mainly because of a faulty billing system, not Medicare cuts.
The AHA release included a Jan. 7 Washington Post article about Moody's Investors Services lowering the bond rating of Georgetown University because of the financial troubles at its hospital. But the Post and MODERN HEALTHCARE (Jan. 11, p. 16) noted that the downgrade was based on the hospital's having lost $62.4 million in 1998 on revenues of $468 million because a new billing system let uncollected bills mount.
Meanwhile, the hospital also had been under investigation by HHS' inspector general's office over improper Medicare billing, a probe Georgetown settled earlier this month with a $5.2 million payment to the federal government.
Minor miracle. After a 46-year-old man donated part of his liver to a Medical College of Virginia Hospitals patient with hepatitis C, others inspired by that act are calling Richmond-based MCV to put themselves on a list of possible liver donors.
The events started when Claude Smallwood, the father of Deborah Parker, 39, of Virginia Beach, Va., appeared on a local news show in his native Harrisonburg, Va., pleading for someone to come forward and donate a liver. Usually a family member donates part of a liver, which can then regenerate cells and grow back to a healthy size.
But that route was impossible in Parker's case because she has type B blood, which is shared by only 8% of the world's population. The blood types of donor and recipient must match.
Kenneth Schuler, of Linville, Va., saw the televised plea and called to say he was interested in donating. On April 19, surgeons removed part of Schuler's liver and transplanted it into Parker. The procedure went smoothly, and so far no complications have arisen. Both Parker and Schuler are recovering at home.
The acid test. Speaking of hepatitis C, a new blood screen will soon make it more difficult for people with that ailment or with HIV to donate blood.
The American Red Cross is using the technique, called nucleic acid testing, to screen blood for 24 of the organization's 37 regions under a Food and Drug Administration-approved investigational drug protocol.
Standard blood screens work by detecting antibodies for specific viruses. The new test, which may receive FDA approval in a matter of months, detects viruses directly and thus much earlier in the course of an infection.
The test will add about $6 to the per-unit cost for blood, which now ranges from $80 to $100 per unit, the Red Cross estimates. The organization's chief medical officer, Richard Davey, M.D., estimates that the test will identify 80 to 200 units of hepatitis C-infected blood and five units of HIV-infected blood each year that would otherwise go undetected.
The Red Cross, which distributes about half the nation's blood supply, expects to have the test in use in all its regions by July.
One word for them: Natural. May just hasn't been a merry month for plastic surgeons. Last week a study in the New England Journal of Medicine pointed to at least five deaths from the cosmetic surgical procedure of liposuction.
On the heels of that news U.S. Attorney Alejandro Mayorkas in Los Angeles charged three Los Angeles plastic surgeons with insurance fraud.
Ronald Strahan, M.D., 61, of Brentwood, admitted in a plea agreement that he "surgically peeled back skin on the noses of his anesthetized patients, inserted foreign objects beneath the skin and photographed the resulting deformities to trick insurance companies into paying for cosmetic nose jobs" at his West Olympic Surgery Center. He and plastic surgeon Alvin Reiter, M.D., 55, of Beverly Hills, also admitted falsely diagnosing nonexistent medical conditions to obtain insurance payments for procedures like liposuction.
In another tough blow for the face and body reshaping industry, Teofilo Po, M.D., 69, of Whittier, and anesthesiologists David Gendein, 41, of West Hollywood and Kevin Tehrani, 35, all employed by Beverly Hills Outpatient Surgery Center, were charged with mail fraud. They allegedly billed insurance companies for medically necessary procedures, such as breast cancer biopsies, when cosmetic surgical procedures, such as breast enlargements, were actually performed.
Nasty site. The planned flagship hospital for Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Health Care doesn't exactly have a flagship past.The 55.6-acre parcel where the $200 million to $300 million facility will be constructed is the site of an old metal smelting facility in Murray, just south of Salt Lake City. The smelting operations contaminated the soil with lead and arsenic, according to Intermountain officials and published reports.
However, the site is being cleaned up, thanks to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state environmental workers, says Gregory Poulsen, Intermountain's vice president of strategic planning and research.
Poulsen says the contamination was moderate, and that no dioxins-severe carcinogens sometimes found at old mine and smelting sites-were present.
The cleanup is expected to be completed by the end of the year, with groundbreaking to take place in 2001. Construction is expected to be completed by 2004.
Quotable. "There was a healthcare reform advocate who died and went to heaven. The reformer said to God, 'Lord, I've been trying for years to get some healthcare reform passed. Each year I felt we were close, but this year we were closer than ever. Tell me, since you know everything, when will it happen?' God's response: 'Not in my lifetime.' "-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), speaking to the American College of Emergency Physicians.