For those of you who were wondering whatever happened to Howard Dean, the former Democratic presidential candidate, Vermont governor and family physician, here's one answer:
Dean has resurfaced in radio and television advertisements in New York, pitching in for the cause of home health aides. He was enlisted by Service Employees International Union Local 1199, which has organized 23,000 home health aides to strike on June 7 in protest over low hourly wages and lack of health benefits. Dean was also planning to join the home health aides for a march and rally on the first day of the strike. In the meantime, Dean's Web site, democracyforamerica.com, has featured details of the campaign and generated hundreds of visits that resulted in contributions to the 1199 Strike Solidarity Fund, union officials say.
The site also links to another SEIU event, a June 19 "Bridge the Gap Day" to publicize the problem of the uninsured, which was a focal point of Dean's presidential run.
"Executives at these agencies pay themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the home health aides who provide the care live in poverty-making just $7 an hour, less than $14,000 a year, most with no health benefits," Dean said in a news release.
Union officials say that home healthcare funding provides agencies with $17 an hour in government funds for services, but less than $7 an hour goes to the workers who provide the care. Home health agencies take half of the funding for administrative overhead, including executive salaries, they claim. The union represents more than 250,000 healthcare workers, including 23,000 home health aides.
Many hospitals and long-term-care facilities have programs in which specially trained dogs visit patients to help in the healing process, but Oakwood Healthcare System in Dearborn, Mich., is trying something different: allowing patients to receive visits from their own pets.
Four-hospital Oakwood began a one-year pilot program in March to test the idea that canine and feline family members can offer as much healing benefit for patients as the human variety.
"We've seen a lot of benefit in terms of well-being. It elevates the spirit," says Christine Westphal, clinical nurse specialist for ethics and family support. "For those nearing end of life, it brings a sense of closure. For others, it motivates them to get better. It meets different needs."
The family hound must adhere to strict pet visit protocols published by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses and based on experiences of pioneers Baystate Medical Center, Springfield, Mass., and the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center. Usually pet therapy dogs undergo rigorous nine- to 18-month training programs. Personal pets will get the crash-course equivalent, including requirements for vet papers and screening for clean coats and temperament-any dogs snapping or pulling away will be turned away at the door. Pets also must have facilitators and escorts to ensure the visits aren't disruptive.
Westphal says pet visits are "part of the way we create a healing environment, and there's a lot more to healing than medication."
Fraud, abuse and rock 'n' roll
From the first familiar chords of "Desperado" through a litany of baby-boomer favorites from the Rascals, Aretha Franklin, the Beatles and Linda Ronstadt, the nine-piece pickup band Rhythm & Blue captured and held the audience's attention. Lead singer Flora Allen belted out the hits with the stage savvy of a pro, torching chart-toppers from the '50s through the '80s and shamelessly playing to the crowd of 30- to 50-something listeners.
It wasn't until she introduced a Pat Benatar number that an innocent bystander mistakenly strolling into a meet- ing room at Chicago's Westin River North Hotel last month could have learned the occupations of the band members and their audience.
"This is for all the docs we've investigated," shouted Allen, director of special investigations for the Excellus Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan of Rochester, N.Y., as she introduced "Hit Me With Your Best Shot."
Rhythm & Blue members had only one rehearsal before pooling their collective musical talents May 26 to perform before auditors and fraud investigators like themselves at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association's 2004 National Internal Audit and Anti-Fraud Conference May 25-28. Constituting the brass section was the association's national antifraud director Byron Hollis and Darrell Langlois, director of investigations for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana.
The national association provided the bulk of the band, with senior consultant Paul Hoover on background vocals; senior network analyst Dennis Murray on drums and percussion; associate counsel Lee Ann Morris on background vocals and keyboards; senior consultant Remi Ogunlari on background vocals; senior consultant Shel Pais on guitar, keyboards and background vocals; Chief Auditor and Compliance Officer Mike Joyce on drums and guitar; and former association consultant Rolfe Hokanson on bass.
The audience members, who spend most of their days glued to computer screens, gave the band a rousing reception, undeterred by some glitches in the performance. "This is a work in progress," Allen says. "We haven't figured out how to end each song yet."