The incredibly expanding medical malpractice insurance crisis, once limited to 12 states in the U.S., has crossed America's northern border, pushing relentlessly into Canada, where even a universal health system cannot fully protect physicians who serve as team doctors for professional sports franchises.
Earlier this month, three physicians for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team quit the club after the Canadian Medical Protective Association withdrew their malpractice insurance, citing the threat of lawsuits originating in the litigious U.S. of A. Coverage was cut for all the estimated 60 to 70 physicians across the Great White North who serve as doctors for sports teams that play some of their games in the U.S.
"Our fear is that if a physician was to be faced with a legal action that originated in the U.S., it could be very costly for us," says a spokeswoman with the Ottawa-based association, which provides malpractice insurance to about 62,000 doctors-or approximately 95% of all the physicians in Canada. "It's that element of risk we want to avoid by taking this group of doctors out of our pool."
The policy, which took effect Jan. 1, generated headlines when this year's baseball season started and the Blue Jays were left without any physicians. While some teams have managed to solve the problem by securing alternative sources of insurance for their doctors, the Blue Jays still are struggling to find a winning combination. They continue to rely on trainers and paramedics, one spokesman says.
It's back to the future in Houston, as Memorial Hermann Healthcare System recently debuted a hospital-based educational facility to train nurses and allied health professionals.
Hospital-based nursing education used to be the norm across the U.S., but Memorial Hermann officials note that the new facility is unique in the Houston area.
The 11-hospital system recently opened the 18,000-square-foot Technical Education Center, which though new actually consolidates existing one- and two-year training programs in radiology, licensed vocational nursing and surgical technology that had been spread out in the system.
"There's an easier transition into a job going from role of student to role of employee," says Judith Farmer, the center's director. By the time the nurses start their new jobs, they're familiar with policies and procedures and have gotten to know the staff. "It's traumatic taking your first job, so it eases the pain a little bit."
The new $1.5 million center will house a 40-year-old radiology training center at 344-bed Memorial City Hospital, where Farmer got her start as a registered nurse in 1978, and a 28-year-old vocational nursing center. The idea behind the center, which triples existing space, was to increase enrollment in the programs and to expand the center's reach. Before opening the new center, the programs-located in three different areas-had very little laboratory space for hands-on learning. The new facility doubles the number of beds to 10 and has two operating rooms.
Memorial Hermann has been absorbing staff from its training programs for years. "What better way to get an ongoing source of quality nurses than to train your own?" Farmer says.
New York officials are doling out free nicotine patches in a bid to take the edge off the city's new smoking ban.
Under an initiative announced this month, New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene agreed to give the first 35,000 smokers to call its cessation hot line a six-week supply of nicotine patches to help wean them off cigarettes. Each recipient will receive two follow-up calls within the first four weeks to see how they're progressing, and a random sampling of participants will be contacted six months later to see if they've successfully kicked the habit. A two-week supply of patches usually sells for about $50.
A ban on smoking in all New York bars and restaurants took effect March 30, despite protest from smokers and business owners who said the measure would cost them customers and revenue. The patch program is expected to cost the city $2.5 million, but Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden calls it money well-spent, given that tobacco kills three times as many people as alcohol, murder and suicide combined.
"Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in New York City, responsible for the deaths of more than 10,000 New Yorkers each year," Frieden says.
Scam artists barked up the wrong tree
Talk about a dog stock.
A conspiracy to illegally pump up the share price of a sham New York healthcare company turns out to have been, in part, a canine caper.
It seems that the scammers-two of whom pleaded guilty and one who was convicted last week by a Manhattan federal jury on securities fraud and conspiracy charges-got some advice from two dogs named Charles and Trudi, both "personnel" of the sham company, American Healthcare Providers. The company was run from the apartment of Arthur Wheeler, 55, the president and CEO, who owns the hounds.
The Securities and Exchange Commission charged that among the misrepresentations made on the Internet about the company, co-conspirators Angel Lorie Jr. and his son, Luis Lorie, both of Miami, fabricated a "due diligence" visit by Luis Lorie, after which he thanked AHP staffers "Charles" and "Trudi" for "their time and effort."
The three bilked investors of $1.47 million, the SEC charged. Wheeler faces 15 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines at a June 26 sentencing.
The dogs, of course, are innocent on all counts.