As many providers continued to express reluctance about the smallpox vaccination, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist recently got inoculated-again-to encourage more providers to do the same.
With plenty of media on hand, Frist (R-Tenn.) was vaccinated on March 14 and then received training on how to do the procedure himself. The timing was fortuitous, as just three days later President Bush announced that military action against Iraq was imminent.
"I have been vaccinated today not as Senate majority leader, but as a physician," Frist said after getting his shot, referring to the administration's plan to have nearly half a million front-line healthcare workers inoculated. As of March 7, fewer than 17,000 had received the vaccine.
Frist already had been inoculated as most Americans over the age of 30 have, but says there were three reasons he volunteered to go through the procedure again.
First, he wanted to be part of the Washington first-response team and be available to administer the vaccine if it became necessary. He also wanted to make the public aware that the vaccination is both safe and easy. "It didn't hurt at all," he said, at one point asking Lucienne Nelson, a nurse with the National Institutes of Health who administered the vaccination, "Is that because you're a Republican?"
Docs' Iraq protest
Medical staff at Springfield (Vt.) Hospital approved a resolution opposing a war with Iraq. The stance was supported by a majority of about 30 doctors who attended a quarterly staff meeting last week.
Jeffrey Bell, the staff physician who introduced the resolution at the meeting, told the Associated Press that he opposes the war because of the casualties it would bring, and says the money spent on the war would be better used for improving education and healthcare.
"Physicians need to speak out about the substantial loss of life that has to occur. This is a health issue," Bell says.
While some staff members at the meeting opposed taking a position on the matter, most approved an opposition statement that Bell says he will send to the White House. He also plans to encourage other hospitals to take a similar stand.
But some people at the local hospital and at other medical institutions in the region said it was inappropriate to take any position because of the broad range of opinion on the matter. "I think it would be hard to describe a position that represents the views of the entire hospital community," says Glenn Cordner, Springfield Hospital's CEO.
Employees at St. Vincent Hospitals and Health Services, Indianapolis, changed clothes and reversed roles when they participated in programs for the recent Cover the Uninsured Week.
During a two-hour program, about 35 nurses, administrators and hospital workers played roles of people who did not have health insurance and struggled to survive as they faced difficult situations, such as a loss of a job or living on Social Security benefits.
"It is supposed to be as real as possible," says Marty Rugh, director of community development at St. Vincent, who organized the program. "It is designed for participants to understand what it might be like to live in a low-income family. It is not a game; it's supposed to be a simulation."
Sixteen hospital workers played various other roles, including employment officers, welfare officers and landlords, who must deliver difficult news to low-income families that are uninsured, she said.
The exercise was aimed at making hospital workers more sympathetic to patients who do not have insurance and are struggling to get by. It seemed to have succeeded.
"It really sensitized me," says Carmen Bailey, a social worker at St. Vincent's primary-care center who played the role of an unemployed father of four. "As a social worker, it brought back memories."
Smoothing out the margins
Alameda (Calif.) Hospital is going from wrinkled babies to wrinkled boomers. The 135-bed public hospital is converting its old birthing ward into a cosmetic surgery center that provides dermabrasion, skin peels, laser resurfacing, Botox and other antiwrinkle treatments.
The center, slated to open in October, is designed to attract wealthy patrons who pay out-of-pocket and to draw new plastic surgeons and dermatologists to the facility.
Indeed, with the number of Americans age 55 and up expected to nearly double from 59.6 million in 2001 to 102.8 million by 2025, wrinkles are becoming big business. "The demographics are right," says Bert Sebilia, Alameda Hospital's chief nursing officer.
Alameda Hospital has been working hard in the past year to reverse mounting losses and attract more physicians to the 107-year-old facility, home to the only emergency room on tiny Alameda island in San Francisco Bay. The hospital was spared from near-certain closure last April, when voters approved an annual property tax increase to partially subsidize the facility's $10 million operating budget.
The new center will replace Alameda Hospital's former maternity unit, which was losing $885,000 a year before it was shuttered in January 2001. Officials expect the new, high-margin program to become so profitable that it could largely support the rest of the hospital's operations within three years. "It's not going to be our salvation, but we certainly expect it to help," Sebilia says.