An Indiana hospital-and through it a major health system-has turned to a comic strip superhero to spread the message about employee ethics and compliance issues.
Captain Integrity, who dons a cape and wears the letter "I," is the creation of Bob Wade, the integrity officer at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, South Bend, who has the superhero delivering ethical messages to workers regarding issues such as conflicts of interest, racial discrimination and theft.
Employees appear to be anxious to read Captain Integrity's messages in the hospital's monthly internal newsletter. According to an informal survey, approximately 95% of hospital employees read the comic strip. Previously, only about 5% of employees read the monthly column on compliance issues written by Wade.
"Every time a medical staff member sees Captain Integrity, they know St. Joseph and Trinity Health are organizations that stand behind ethical conduct," Wade says. "If we miss a month, people are calling me for it, even physicians."
Wade developed the character in 2001 as a computer screensaver at the hospital. After receiving positive reaction by co-workers, Wade decided to develop the project into a comic strip superhero who delivers messages that would help employees face ethical dilemmas.
Trinity Health, based in Novi, Mich., which oversees St. Joseph, acquired the rights in December 2003 and is making Captain Integrity and his messages available to its 45 hospitals. Wade is also marketing the superhero around the country, and has signed up six healthcare systems, which pay between $1,000 and $2,500 annually depending on the number of employees, he says.
A bad PR day
"Your tax dollars bought these computers," the local news anchorman intoned over a camera close-up of a pile of keyboards, monitors and processing units. "So why are they sitting tonight in a trash Dumpster?" The floodlit scene outside a medical building on the campus of University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center unfolded after an anonymous e-mail to CBS affiliate WBBM-TV news expressed distress that old but still working computers were getting tossed.
One man who came by with a flatbed truck saw his opening and heaved a bunch of components into the back while videocams rolled, completely filling the cargo area and driving off. Before the coverage ran its course earlier this month, a host of people were trotted on camera to say the medical center could have donated the usable computers to schools, community centers and other recipients for whom the equipment represented a "luxury" instead of worthless junk.
"We feel the vast majority of them were broken," a UIC Medical Center spokesman says of the approximately 40 computers. But some of the units were labeled "surplus," which by state law could not be trashed. The local founder of a not-for-profit organization called Computers for Schools retrieved one computer, brought it back to his headquarters and booted it up just fine-and he was able to access a hard drive full of data that hadn't been erased.
A memo on proper disposal of unneeded equipment was distributed to employees last week. Meanwhile, hospital officials were investigating whether any patient-identifiable health information was on the computers, which were so old and outdated that they were of no use to any hospital departments, the spokesman says. He also says that the state-owned facility "can't simply donate a surplus computer to an outside entity"-regulations require them to return any such items to a holding area in the state capital of Springfield, about 200 miles southwest of Chicago.
But in the aftermath of the news coverage, the medical center planned to review property policies with state officials "to explore opportunities to make surplus equipment available to schools and other not-for-profit organizations," the spokesman said.
An odd target
Apparently you don't have to be Microsoft to have your computers invaded by hackers.
At least a few thousand people received an e-mail last week from the Washington-based Alliance for Health Reform, but the message had nothing to do with the group's signature issue, the uninsured. Rather than seeking information for a policy paper or providing a new source list for journalists, the e-mail requested that recipients give the alliance their credit card numbers.
"Unfortunately, our Web server was hacked by someone with an e-mail address in the Turks and Caicos Islands, who then used our e-mail lists to send the fraudulent message," Ed Howard, the alliance's executive vice president, says in an e-mail apologizing for the error.
The alliance houses its Web operation on a server in Texas, and at least one other organization sharing that computer space was also used as the source of bogus e-mails, an alliance spokesman says. "It's awfully irritating," he says. The Dallas-based company that runs the alliance's server will pick up the cost of fixing the problem and preventing it from happening again, the spokesman said.
"Our database doesn't contain any credit card or other financial information from the people on our lists, so you shouldn't have any difficulty as a result of this hacking," Howard's apology message says.
Other than not being able to send e-mail for a few hours, the alliance was unharmed, as were those who received the e-mail message.
On the other hand, maybe the hackers picked up some valuable information about our nation's coverage crisis.