Lewis Morris, who starts his new job as chief counsel to HHS Inspector General Janet Rehnquist in October, says healthcare antifraud efforts will continue to be as strong as they were under his predecessor but there will be a "different emphasis" that reflects a collaboration with providers rather than confrontation.
"You'll see an increased use of administrative sanctions, such as civil monetary penalties for kickback violations and exclusions from federal health programs for quality-of-care deviations. The use of administrative tools is also consistent with the inspector general's view that we should be working in partnership with healthcare providers."
Morris, 48, knows his way around the office. He's spent more than 17 years there, logging stints in the general counsel's office, the office of investigations and several years as a special prosecutor working with U.S. attorneys in Philadelphia; Tampa, Fla.; and Washington.
Like the man he replaces-Mac Thornton, 55, who announced his retirement in August after 19 years with the agency and 30 years with the federal government-Morris began his federal career with the Federal Trade Commission.
Morris says the office will continue to offer industry guidance, such as fraud alerts, bulletins and advisory opinions. "We think that's an important part of what we do," says Morris, who, despite a reputation as an antifraud hard-liner and tough negotiator, has been the most visible official in the inspector general's office and a regular speaker at health law conferences.
"I've been a big believer in outreach, in collaboration with the provider community. That will continue. And I think the level of professionalism will remain-we will recruit the best lawyers with a commitment to public service."
Fighting fraud is a family affair for Morris: His wife is an FTC lawyer.
A soothing promotion
If the thought of getting a mammogram has some women biting their nails, they might find some relief in a promotion that a Missouri hospital is running in connection with its breast-cancer screening program.
Through February 2003, Barnes-Jewish St. Peters (Mo.) Hospital is giving out gift certificates for manicures to women who have mammography screenings at their hospital. The offer is in partnership with Face and Body Day Spas in O'Fallon, Mo., about 15 minutes away.
The tests take about 20 minutes to perform, but a lot of women put it off, says Mary Lee, senior coordinator of communications and marketing at Barnes. The idea is targeted at those women who might be enticed into getting screened if they can get their nails done for free.
The Women's Center at Barnes performs about 650 mammograms per month. The 90-bed hospital is located in St. Charles County, a fast-growing suburban area with a median age of 34. The county has 283,883 residents, according to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau, up 33% since 1990. O'Fallon's population has surged 147% since the 1990 census.
The hospital is promoting the benefits of regular mammography screenings for women over 40 by tying it in with something that is seen by many women as soothing and nonthreatening. "It helps lighten a potentially serious situation," says Peggy Mitchusson, founder and CEO of Face and Body Day Spas. "It says to people, `It's so normal, so doable, you even get a free manicure.' In comparison (with cancer testing), it's silly, and that's why it works."
Lost amid the thousands of events marking the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks was a small press release from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics timed for release that day.
The announcement concerned a new category of mortality and morbidity for death and injury resulting from terrorism under the World Health Organization and U.S. classification systems used for everything from statistics to reimbursement. For mortality, the codes developed include terrorism involving an assault (homicide) and terrorism involving intentional self-harm (suicide).
"The standardized classification systems described here address the need to identify deaths and injuries resulting from terrorism and will allow a better assessment of the public health impact of terrorism in the United States," CDC officials said in the release.
Hospitals have always been the sites of life's most emotional events, but there was an especially poignant moment at Mesa (Ariz.) Lutheran Medical Center last week.
Gary McCormick of Mesa had to rush his ailing mother to the hospital, the local East Valley Tribune reported. He had thought it was something minor and he would be taking Leora McCormick, 89, back home to continue to help plan his upcoming wedding. Upon learning she had suffered a severe stroke and could die at any minute, Gary, his fiancee and staff nurses swung into action.
Rhonda Salazar, the night charge nurse, phoned the hospital chaplain, who said it would take him 90 minutes to get there. Doctors thought that was too long. But Salazar knew that a man in the emergency room with his ailing father was a minister. She asked him to pray for the family, and the minister hurried to his car to get his Bible.
Gary McCormick, meanwhile, had another idea. He ran to the hospital flower shop minutes before it closed for the night and then borrowed a ring. The surprised minister was asked to perform a wedding ceremony.
The wedding took place at Leora McCormick's bedside. She couldn't speak, but from her tears her son says he knew she was aware what was happening.
"We went from the thought of taking her home ... to knowing that we were not going to get married without this woman even if we had to drag (a minister) off the street, which we did," Gary McCormick said.
His mother died an hour later.