A California newspaper's account of an "intensely personal" relationship between Rep. William Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, and healthcare super-lobbyist Deborah Steelman burned like wildfire last week in Washington's healthcare policy circles.
The Bakersfield Californian's report about Thomas and Steelman raised questions about a conflict of interest stemming from the relationship.
As the subcommittee's chairman and congressional GOP's de facto leader on healthcare, Thomas wields great power over the fate of many of Steelman's clients, which include pharmaceutical companies as well as nursing home chain Beverly Enterprises and Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
In an "open letter" to constituents, Thomas writes he has "never let my public decisions be influenced by any factor other than what I thought was best and right on your behalf." But he went on to say, "Any personal failures of commitment or responsibility to my wife, family or friends are just that, personal."
In a separate written statement, Steelman labels the report "repulsive."
"To suggest I would stoop to `an inappropriate relationship' to achieve legislative results is repugnant and sexist," she writes. Steelman is a healthcare consultant to the presidential campaign of George W. Bush.
The report holds extra peril for Thomas, who's running to succeed Rep. Bill Archer (R-Texas) as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. To do so, however, he'll have to pass over his more senior colleague, Rep. Philip Crane (R-Ill.), and any suggestion of ethical lapses could hurt his chances. The 11-term congressman has been considered a heavy favorite in his November re-election bid.
Signs of the times. When the doctor asks, "Where does it hurt?" most patients take it for granted that they can describe their symptoms in a way their physicians will understand. Not so for Chris Hunter, executive director for Michigan's division on deafness, who as a deaf patient has been forced to communicate with physicians via a notepad, a method that's woefully inadequate to describe his pain.
But no more. For the first time, video-interpreting equipment is allowing medical information to flow between doctor and patient through a certified interpreter via teleconferencing equipment that uses motion cameras to capture body language as well as the language of signing. Three hospitals in the Flint, Mich., area--379-bed Genesys Regional Medical Center, 476-bed Hurley Medical Center and 467-bed McLaren Regional Medical Center--have partnered with Statewide Services for the Hearing Impaired to install special ISDN lines so that hearing-impaired patients can sign back and forth with an interpreter, who is able to hear the doctor or nurse and interpret for the patient.
The video-interpreting services are available on request, while in-person interpreters can sometimes take a day or more to arrange. The technology, says SSHI spokeswoman Julie Miron, has not been used before in healthcare but is catching on in other industries, including the U.S. Postal Service and the court system. Someday, it may also be used in schools to help deaf children interact more easily in mainstream classrooms.
Now those are good signs.
Mind over matter. It may seem simple, but here it is: Our state of mind affects our state of health. If you need proof, look at a couple of recent studies involving older adults.
A study in the July issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences documents how older adults exposed to subliminal negative messages about old age experienced elevated blood pressure. In the experiment, researchers flashed words like "senile" or "confused" on a computer screen to a group of adults aged 62 to 82 and found the subjects had significantly higher blood pressure than they'd had before even after 30 minutes.
A second group, exposed to split-second glimpses of positive words like "sage" or "creative," exhibited significantly lower blood pressure. "The study suggests that negative stereotypes of aging may contribute to health problems in the elderly without their awareness." says Becca Levy, assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study.
And a study in the May issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society described how the researchers, led by University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, professor Glenn Ostir, interviewed 2,282 Mexican Americans age 65 to 99 at the beginning and end of the two-year study. They found that the happier their subjects were, the less likely they were to have developed disabilities or died during the study period.
Many things really are more simple than we often make them seem.
Equal but equal. Carolyn Lewis, board chairwoman of the American Hospital Association, wasn't going to let a bout of laryngitis silence her from talking about the need for more diversity in healthcare management.
"I hope my voice holds up," Lewis told attendees of the second annual Health Care Diversity Conference in Chicago hosted last week by the Institute for Diversity in Health Management. It did.
As the first black and the first hospital trustee to hold the coveted AHA leadership position, Lewis knows what she's talking about.
So with her voice cracking and croaking throughout her address, Lewis talked about how it is the responsibility of hospital boards to be a force for creating a more diverse healthcare workplace.
"We have to take the lead as change agents," said Lewis, who serves as a trustee at 714-bed Washington (D.C.) Hospital Center.
But Lewis was preaching to the choir at the conference. The attendees already were a racially and ethnically diverse group of 250 healthcare leaders, trustees and students.
Outliers hopes they'll take Lewis' message to their peers.