The board of Slidell (La.) Memorial Hospital is saving face, it seems, by sacrificing discount health insurance.
In a concession aimed at rectifying its growing credibility problem, the 10-member board agreed late last month not to accept the medical coverage offered by Tenet Healthcare Corp. if 182-bed Slidell Memorial ultimately is acquired by the national hospital chain.
As part of its purchase agreement, Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Tenet had granted the board members an opportunity to buy insurance through its employer-sponsored benefits plan for up to five years. But the company also had refused to extend the same offer to some 20 early retirees currently covered by Slidell Memorial.
"It's a matter of principle," says Slidell Memorial Chairman Al Hamauei."We were elected to represent our community ... so if (the early retirees) have to forfeit their insurance, we'll forfeit ours, too."
Since 1994, board members have been able to buy coverage at a subsidized employee rate through Slidell Memorial's self-insurance fund. The previous board had received free insurance.
Slidell Memorial's board has faced mounting criticism since October 2002, when it agreed to sell the financially faltering public hospital to Tenet, which now is facing a federal investigation into its Medicare billing practices. Some critics have accused the board of trying to personally benefit from the $130 million deal, and state Sen. Tom Schedler has said he plans to introduce a bill that would overhaul the board.
Schedler, a former Slidell Memorial employee who resigned after taking office in 1996, has questioned the sale, arguing that it could create a monopoly in the region, where Tenet already owns two hospitals in addition to five others in the New Orleans area. The proposed acquisition will go before voters in an April 5 referendum.
Instant pictures, better outcomes
The wonder days of Polaroid cameras may have disappeared with leisure suits and Richard Nixon, but the refreshingly anachronistic technology evidently still has a noble role to play in healthcare.
A new study involving instant photography and diabetic veterans has produced a simple, low-tech solution that provides real help for the walking wounded and carries the potential to save millions of dollars.
The two-year pilot study, which was released exclusively to Outliers, was launched at the Gainesville (Fla.) VA Medical Center in July 2000 with $565,000 in federal funding. Polaroid cameras and instructions on how to use them were distributed to 326 patients with the goal of reducing amputations in high-risk diabetes patients. Foot wounds were measured and scored when the patients first visited the doctor, and the study volunteers subsequently mailed Polaroids of their lower extremity wounds to the medical team each week.
Significant photos triggered appropriate intervention, according to the project abstract, which Outliers can only take to mean especially nasty foot wound photos tripped alarms back at the VA-as well they should.
But the end result was impressive; although 27 veterans, or 8% of the study subjects, eventually needed amputation, 11 imminent amputations were prevented at a savings of $627,000. For the veterans, the savings were measured in more personal terms.
Estimates are that 14% to 24% of all diabetics with a foot ulcer progress to amputation, but half of all lower extremity amputations could be prevented through earlier intervention. Annually more than 86,000 diabetics undergo amputations at a cost of $1.1 billion.
The project will be national in scope within two years, a Polaroid spokeswoman says.
Britney and Vandewater
Ardent Health Services is based in the country-music capital, Nashville, but the investor-owned chain recently tapped an icon of the pop music set-Britney Spears-for a cancer-awareness rally at its 201-bed Summit Hospital, Baton Rouge, La. David Vandewater, Ardent's president and CEO, and Ken Melkus, an Ardent board member, joined the pop singer and her family, who hail from Louisiana.
Perhaps Richard Scrushy, chairman and CEO of HealthSouth Corp., Birmingham, Ala., will get in touch with Spears next. As Outliers noted last year, Scrushy plays guitar in a band named Proxy (Oct. 21, 2002, p. 36). Scrushy and HealthSouth also helped establish and promote the teen girl group 3rd Faze, which appeared on the company's "Go For It! TV: The Real Challenge" cable series.
As advocates for the 41 million uninsured Americans poured their awareness efforts into Cover the Uninsured Week last week, they realized they aren't alone in trying to get the attention of the American public.
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson kicked off National Patient Safety Awareness Week with a speech to the fifth-annual Patient Safety Congress, where he discussed the government's role in protecting patients.
Also on this month's calendar for healthcare observances are American Diabetes Alert Day, American Red Cross Month, Brain Awareness Week, Children and Healthcare Week, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Collegiate Health and Wellness Week, and Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. And that's just through the Cs. We counted 27 for the month.
"We didn't intend to step on anyone's toes," says a spokesman for the Cover the Uninsured campaign. "But there are literally dozens of (awareness campaigns this month)."
"There are only 52 weeks in a year, and we do the best we can to call attention to the issues," says Nancy Nielsen, a physician and vice speaker of the American Medical Association's House of Delegates who worked on the patient-safety week. "I'd be out there marching every day to get coverage for the uninsured."