You can never tell how someone, even a member of President Bush's Cabinet, is going to react when surprised on his birthday. After HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson completed a press conference announcing a new nursing home quality initiative on Nov. 19, Thomas Scully, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, helped roll out a large white birthday cake in honor of Thompson's 60th birthday. The normally gregarious Thompson looked embarrassed for just a moment, but then happily performed his duty of blowing out the candles.
Waiting for Thompson outside the Woodbine Rehabilitation Center in Alexandria, Va., where the press conference took place, was a surprise of another sort. A small group of sign-toting protesters from the disability rights advocacy group ADAPT-Americans Disabled for Attendant Programs Today-showed up to confront the secretary. The demonstrators, many in wheelchairs, claimed that HHS doesn't spend enough money on community-based services-such as home healthcare-for the disabled.
Few members of the media were still around as the limousine carrying Thompson drove out from behind the Woodbine facility and began heading for the exit. Instead of rolling away, however, the car turned to pass in front of the protesters and slowed to a stop. Thompson popped out and began shaking hands with the surprised advocates. During the five-minute visit Thompson told the group that he sympathized with their concerns and would look into the matter.
The protesters tried valiantly to press their cause during the brief encounter but couldn't stop enthusiastically wishing the affable Thompson a happy birthday.
A heartfelt thanks. During these tribute-filled days in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Jersey City Medical Center staged a surprise party to honor its own local hero, Benito Torres Jr.
Torres has two full-time jobs: He served 15 years as a member of Engine Company No. 18 in Jersey City, N.J., and he worked on the food line in the kitchen at the 333-bed hospital for 23 years. As a firefighter, he spent five exhausting days assisting in recovery efforts at ground zero at the World Trade Center site.
Wanting to show their appreciation, his co-workers arranged a party in the hospital cafeteria on Nov. 6, where they feted him with food, drink and a plaque honoring him for his courage and dedication, says Lynn McFarlane, a hospital spokeswoman. They also collected about $100, which Torres says he will use to buy T-shirts that New York firefighters are selling to aid the victims of the World Trade Center disaster.
Thinking he had been summoned to a going-away party for his supervisor, Torres turned red in the face when he learned the party was for him, McFarlane says. Touched by the presentation, he shared some of his emotionally draining experiences. Other rescuers dubbed him "the rat" because he was the one called upon to wriggle into tight, closed spaces to look for survivors.
Jersey City Medical Center knows a little about rescue efforts itself. After the attack, hospital workers were prepared to help, and treated a total of 175 patients. Staffers could see the trade center burning from the hospital's tower.
Diversification strategy backfires. It seems that strippers and Stanford don't mix after all. A respected cardiovascular surgeon who in September purchased three Las Vegas strip clubs to finance his medical research at Stanford University says bad publicity over the move persuaded him to sell the establishments.
In an e-mail to the Los Angeles Times, Simon Stertzer, M.D., said "adverse characterization" of his decision to buy the all-nude Palomino Club and two neighboring topless bars compelled him to scrap the venture. Apparently, the full-time professor at Stanford's medical school plans to sell the clubs but retain the five-acre plot on which they stand.
Stertzer, renowned for performing the nation's first balloon angioplasty in 1978, co-founded Santa Rosa, Calif.-based coronary stentmaker Arterial Vascular Engineering, which was sold to rival Medtronic for $3.7 billion in 1998.
The Palomino and its sister clubs, Lacy's and the Satin Saddle, are located on a stretch along Las Vegas Boulevard. The former is reportedly the last establishment in the area that is still allowed, under a grandfather clause, to offer both alcohol and totally nude entertainment.
To Stertzer, his purchase of the strip clubs was nothing more than a "sensible diversification" to an investment portfolio packed with interests in medical device firms and more "standard" real estate, including a Las Vegas car repair business. But the media quickly seized on the story, playing up the irony of a surgeon peddling flesh to fund research for its treatment.
Stanford, however, has refrained from commenting on its longtime professor, who donated $2 million in 1999 to create an endowed chair at Stanford's cardiology division.
"It really isn't any of the university's business," said Stanford spokeswoman Michelle Brandt. "We see this as a private transaction by a private individual."