Do newspapers and magazines run crime stories because readers demand them or do they run crime stories to attract readers?
Our job at Modern Healthcare is to inform, educate and entertain our readers. In our March 18, 2002, issue, we ran a cover story by legal reporter Mark Taylor titled "Crime and punishment" (p. 6). The story explored the reasons why so many healthcare executives were landing behind bars for fraud, embezzlement and a host of other illegal activities. The story showed that if ethically challenged executives didn't get their houses in order, they might be the next targets of conviction-hungry state and federal prosecutors who seem to have developed a taste for healthcare executives.
Some readers were offended by the coverage. Many found the cover illustration of a prison inmate dangling a cigarette through his cell bars to be in poor taste. Several key healthcare industry leaders also criticized the timing of the piece, which ran the same week as the annual Congress on Healthcare Management of the American College of Healthcare Executives. All fair criticism. As evidenced by our expanded Letters to the Editor section, we welcome, encourage and appreciate feedback.
With 10 annual award programs sponsored in whole or in part by Modern Healthcare, no other healthcare business publication celebrates healthcare management as much as we do. But it's also our job to educate. With thousands of healthcare executives in Chicago last year for the annual congress, we saw a big classroom of readers. And as recent events demonstrate, Taylor's piece was required reading.
The story probably was too late to help this issue's cover boy, former HealthSouth Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Richard Scrushy. He was charged last week with 85 criminal counts related to the alleged $2.7 billion fraud perpetrated by the nation's largest post-acute-care company (See story, p. 6). His indictment followed guilty pleas by no fewer than 15 current and former HealthSouth executives.
Unfortunately, healthcare executives getting into trouble with the law has become almost routine despite our best efforts to educate our readers that the industry has become the preferred hunting ground for corporate and executive shenanigans. On the same day Scrushy was indicted, a former chief financial officer at an Alabama hospital was indicted for fraud (See news briefs, p. 20). About three weeks ago, a federal grand jury indicted a former executive of Triad Hospitals for fraud (Oct. 27, p. 3).
And it's not just Modern Healthcare that's sounding the alarm. In this year's issue distributed at the ACHE's annual congress, the organization's own chairman, Larry Sanders, wrote that it's the responsibility of every healthcare executive to perform an ethics self-assessment (March 17, p. 46). "Our charge is to ensure that what we do within our organizations is consummately professional. Our stewardship of that special trust placed with us is unique, and it requires a unique ethical commitment of the leaders of our organizations," Sanders wrote in a commentary. In this year's issue distributed at the Healthcare Financial Management Association's Annual National Institute, the HFMA's chairman, David Canfield, wrote in a commentary: "Integrity, not financial success, is job one" (June 23, p. 50). We did not assign those topics. Sanders and Canfield voluntarily urged their peers to keep it clean. We chimed in and printed our own editorial code of ethics in our Oct. 20 issue (p. 24).
Now, back to the question in the first paragraph. The answer is both. In our June 9 issue, the best-read story, based on our readership survey, was about the indictment of a former chief financial officer at a Florida hospital system for alleged theft. The second most popular story was about the indictment of a CEO at a Tenet Healthcare Corp. hospital in California for alleged kickbacks.
What do you think? Write us with your comments. Via e-mail, it's [email protected]; by fax, 312-280-3183.