Physician astronauts will help determine the viability of telemedicine, and test their sea legs while doing so, in the first commercial medical-science mission in an underwater laboratory.
In the seventh mission of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, or NEEMO 7, physician crew members will help conduct "long-distance" healthcare, such as telemonitoring and telerobotic surgery, in an extreme environment that's comparable to space travel.
The reason for the test is that when, or if, astronauts start spending months in interplanetary travel, they may need medical help that won't be immediately available. Also, the medical technology can be applied in remote rural areas, like much of Canada.
Paying for the underwater exploration are various academic and corporate partnerships, including the McMaster University Centre for Minimal Access Surgery in Toronto.
The 10-day mission this October will be an "end-to-end test" of telemedicine, says Michael Barratt, who became an astronaut in 2000 after spending 10 years as a flight surgeon. At one end will be Mehran Anvari in Toronto, director of the Center for Minimal Access Surgery, instructing and directing medical operations. On the other end, thousands of miles away in an underwater lab off the coast of Key Largo, Fla., will be a robotic arm or physician crew members performing operations on a simulated patient.
In the future, during space flights without surgeons aboard, non-physician astronauts could take instructions on medical procedures by telecommunications.
"We do real work," Barratt says of the experiments the crew will be performing on NEEMO 7. "It's not just a training site for us."
Hospital expansion goes to prison
A boost in the U.S. prison population is adding to the nationwide building boom in an entirely different sector-healthcare.
While community hospitals have led the way in a multibillion-dollar spending spree in recent years, prisons and jails now may be joining the parade as well, building their own healthcare facilities for precisely the same reason as hospitals that aren't surrounded by high fences and barbed wire: capacity concerns.
The latest example: the Pinellas County Jail complex in Clearwater, Fla., which announced last month that it will spend about $30 million on a 164,000-square-foot, 432-bed healthcare facility complete with clinical, dental, mental health and pharmacy areas for both male and female inmates. The project is set to be completed by January 2006.
Pinellas County's jail-it really is the Big House, with about 3,000 inmates-is one of only a small handful of detention facilities in the U.S. with this large of a healthcare facility.
But skyrocketing costs for inmates' healthcare at local hospitals might just serve as a catalyst for further construction. For instance, a July report from state auditors in California found that prisons in the Golden State paid local hospitals as much as eight times more than Medicare would have reimbursed for similar services. Another factor in the fledgling trend: Prisons are nothing if not a growth industry-more than 2 million men and women were being held behind bars in June 2003, an increase of about 3% over the previous year, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
Not yet a for-profit deal
Richard Scrushy has sold one of his more valuable pieces of property for more than he paid for it, but as with everything else he owns, the feds have eyes for the dough.
Scrushy, the founder and former chairman and CEO of HealthSouth Corp., Birmingham, Ala., sold his getaway home on the Intracoastal Waterway in Palm Beach, Fla., for $12.75 million, according to Palm Beach County Circuit Court records. The home was included in the $278 million in assets that the government asked Scrushy to forfeit in its 85-count criminal indictment against him. If he's convicted, the cash from the house sale would almost certainly go into government coffers.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, the lead prosecutor in the case, refused comment on the sale, citing a gag order a federal judge placed on the case. A federal judge in Birmingham has frozen most of Scrushy's assets pending the conclusion of the trial.
Scrushy sold the 10,753-square-foot property to Joel Glazer, whose family owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team. Luckily for Glazer, the Palm Beach area wasn't affected by Hurricane Charley.
Scrushy had purchased the home in March 2001 for $10.9 million and a Palm Beach County property appraiser's office had valued the property at $10.1 million in 2003. Although Scrushy may have turned a profit on the house, he didn't get the $14.9 million asking price, Wally Turner of Sotheby's International Realty in Palm Beach told the Palm Peach Post.
"I had a number of very low-ball offers on the property, based on who the owner was," Turner says. "People thought they could get it on the cheap, but this clearly was not a fire sale."
The deal will further restrict Scrushy's movement, at least until after the trial, now set for Jan. 5, 2005. He had been ordered not to leave Alabama, except to travel to the Florida home, though he had been denied access to a yacht he had there.