Staff members at 22-bed Alegent Health Mercy Hospital in Corning, Iowa, delivered their own clutch performance after an Amtrak train derailed 12 miles away, near Nodaway, Iowa, just before midnight March 17. On Dec. 18, Outliers chronicled the home run hit by caregivers at 23-bed St. Luke's Tri-State Hospital in Bowman, N.D., who treated 51 patients from a bus accident.
Mercy began receiving patients from the train accident about an hour after it occurred, says Jim Ruppert, a regional administrator for Omaha, Neb.-based Alegent Health, the hospital's parent. By then, all four of Mercy's doctors and extra nurses and support workers were at their posts implementing the hospital's disaster plan.
"We treated, in the next three hours, 43 people," Ruppert says. "We're a small facility, and a typical month for us is probably about 120 (emergency room patients). So we had in one three- to four-hour period what's normal for a couple of weeks for us."
Thirty-two patients were treated for minor cuts, bruises and broken bones and released. Three patients who were more seriously injured were stabilized and transferred to hospitals in Des Moines, Iowa, or Omaha. One patient was admitted and has since been discharged. The lone fatality from the derailment, a 69-year-old Colorado Springs, Colo., woman, was pronounced dead on arrival at Mercy. Six other patients were brought in but declined treatment.
In addition to treating the sick, Mercy's food service made breakfast for rescue workers, volunteers and the many patients who were waiting for a bus to take them to Omaha, Ruppert says. The only commodity in short supply: blankets. Alegent Health took care of that by sending a truckload of linens to the hospital.
"By about noon," Ruppert says, "it looked like we were pretty much back to normal, as if we had had a quiet night."
Looks can be deceiving.
BBC examines HCA. A British Broadcasting Corp. radio documentary in January cast a skeptical eye on Britain's largest private healthcare provider, coincidentally America's biggest healthcare company, HCA-The Healthcare Co. The BBC's "File On 4" program examined Nashville-based HCA, which owns six private hospitals in the London area with plans to expand its holdings.
For decades, the British have lived with a form of socialized medicine provided through its National Health Service. But recognizing the long lines-waits of up to two years for elective surgeries-and growing short tempers of citizens, the government is beginning to pay private healthcare providers with NHS money for some services. Previously, patients had to pay in cash for health services from private providers. Now, HCA, formerly known as Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., and other private companies stand to gain millions if government pounds flow into their coffers. But some Brits are concerned about a repeat of HCA's fraudulent U.S. healthcare schemes.
The documentary looked at HCA's recent civil and criminal troubles, starting with whistleblower lawsuits and the state and federal investigations into its business practices. BBC producers interviewed HCA whistleblowers and attorneys, U.S. and British fraud experts, and HCA officials.
But they didn't interview one knowledgeable HCA insider right in their own back yard. Michael Neeb, former chief financial officer of HCA's North Florida Division and the only defendant acquitted in the 1999 Tampa, Fla., trial alleging Medicare fraud charges against the company, is now CFO of HCA's British operations.
Maine hospitals make pollution pledge. The mercury won't be rising in Maine: The state's hospital association has signed a landmark pollution prevention pledge to voluntarily reduce the amount of mercury-containing products and medical equipment it uses.
The Maine Hospital Association, which represents the state's 39 private not-for-profit hospitals, says it will "virtually eliminate" mercury from the hospital waste stream by 2005 and also conduct mercury thermometer exchange programs. The Natural Resources Council of Maine and the state's Department of Environmental Protection signed the initiative.
In a first-in-the-nation agreement for a hospital group, the MHA further pledged to reduce its use of hospital supplies containing PVC, which produces dioxin when burned as waste. Common PVC products include IV bags and tubing, blood bags and patient ID bracelets. The association says it hopes to reduce the state's overall volume of hospital waste by 50% by 2010.
"The MHA is on the cutting edge of a new approach to improving environmental quality-voluntary agreements with measurable commitments," Brooke Barnes, deputy commissioner of Maine's environmental department, said in a written statement. "If Maine hospitals demand clean products, the market will respond with innovations that benefit us all."