As malpractice insurance premiums continue to rise, so has the blood pressure of some of America's doctors.
But the anger really boiled over for Jack Lee, a pulmonary specialist in Englewood, N.J. While his colleagues were busy mounting mostly peaceful protests across the state, waving placards and lobbying lawmakers, a distraught Lee e-mailed death threats to two local reporters after objecting to a story they wrote about the malpractice insurance crisis in The Record, a daily newspaper in Hackensack, N.J.
Lee, 36, who has acknowledged sending the threatening e-mails, was charged last week with two counts of making terroristic threats after reading a Feb. 10 report about doctors picketing outside the state Capitol. The first e-mail, under the title "Yougonna Die," read: "I will track both of you down and seek vengeance. You will regret ever having written your biased article."
Six days later, the reporters received a second e-mail, which declared, in upper-case text, "DEATH SHALL BE IMMINENT."
The object of Lee's ire was a lengthy, 1,318-word story chronicling a work stoppage by about two-thirds of New Jersey's 22,000 physicians that culminated in a huge rally on the steps of the statehouse. While noting that "most patients" seemed to be "sympathetic to the doctors' plight," the story pointed out the obvious irony of several physicians arriving for the picket-waving protest in a "$55,000 Hummer"-hardly the image of downtrodden workers demanding fair wages for an honest day's work.
"Rarely has a more unlikely group of labor protesters taken to the streets of Trenton than the doctors who blocked traffic in front of the statehouse last week," read the first paragraph of the story by reporters Lindy Washburn and Mary Jo Layton. "When a Teamsters official exhorted them with a `What do we want?' " the story stated, "they giggled self-consciously before shouting: `tort reform.' "
A lengthy investigation of the threatening e-mails determined that they had been sent from a computer in the doctors' lounge at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. Lee, who was arrested April 11, has since withdrawn his affiliation with the hospital and his local practice.
Lee appeared in court last week to determine whether he was eligible for a program that allows first-time offenders to have the charges dismissed if they complete a year of probation without any further problems.
Detaining illegal alien ... rats
What do common, cute little prairie dogs have to do with infected African rats? Not much-unless you put them in the same container and ship it to an exotic animal dealer.
That's what happened earlier this month when a pet peddler in Texas combined a shipment of Gambian giant rats with some prairie dogs and sent it on to Illinois. HHS last week was operating under the theory that the African rodents passed along to the prairie dogs a virus known as "monkeypox" during their journey to the Midwest.
Before long, HHS was investigating 54 possible cases of monkeypox in Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey and Wisconsin. Then, last week the agency imposed an embargo on the importation of all rodents from Africa, including prairie dogs, red squirrels and striped mice.
Monkeypox is a condition characterized by smallpoxlike symptoms such as fever, rash and respiratory problems. HHS' ban, imposed on June 11, also prohibits the sale, transport or distribution of the above-mentioned animals.
An HHS spokesman says he had no idea why people would want to keep African rodents as pets and did not know why pet owners can't find perfectly good rats here in the good old U.S.A.
"Don't ask me," the spokesman says. "I have cats."
When Joda Lynn returns to his hometown of 7,000 to practice medicine, he'll be the first to do so in 50 years. His future employer, 48-bed Doctors' Memorial Hospital in Perry, Fla., has ensured his return by paying for his schooling.
Lynn is the first of three students whom Doctors' Memorial has sent to medical school at a cost of $60,000 each in exchange for at least four years' service to the hospital. Doctors' Memorial also is footing the bill for a dozen or so nurses' and ancillary healthcare staff's training.
"If you're in hospital administration, you have to solve your problems today and make the bottom line come out, but we took a more long-term approach to solving those problems," says James McKnight, the hospital's CEO. "And that was to recruit our own, train our own and bring them back here."
In recruiting physicians to the rural area, the hospital had been spending as much as $300,000 per physician, only to see them leave after a few years. Now, Doctors' Memorial can spend a fraction of that amount to grow its own doctors.
Lynn, a third-generation Perry native, will graduate in 2005 from the inaugural class at the Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee, which opened in 2001. Shannon Price will graduate in 2006, and Josef Plum will get his diploma in 2007.