A media-savvy former political operative like K.B. Forbes and his "national advocacy group" should have learned by now the first lesson of PR 101: Don't publicly comment on or especially applaud the actions of someone until you find out what they said or did.
Forbes, who once was a press spokesman for presidential candidates Patrick Buchanan and Steve Forbes (no relation), should have known better. But without apparently reading the "friend of the court" petition filed Aug. 16 by Alabama Attorney General Troy King, Forbes praised King for "joining the fight against hospital price-gouging."
Aligning himself with the president, Forbes explained in big, bold headlines on a news release faxed and e-mailed around the country, that King was the "first AG to join the Bush administration's effort to end the unfairness of overcharging uninsured working-class Americans who are not poor enough to qualify for charity care or Medicaid, yet not healthy enough or wealthy enough to own private insurance." He lauded King as "the first AG to intervene on behalf of taxpayers" in the class-action litigation against 350 tax-exempt hospitals, including Birmingham, Ala.-based Baptist Health System, filed by Oxford, Miss.-based plaintiff attorney Richard Scruggs.
Forbes' organization, Consejo de Latinos Unidos, was funded by GOP powerhouse J. Patrick Rooney, the father of medical savings accounts. The group was the first to publicly attack hospitals for overcharging the uninsured, the basis for a series of lawsuits filed by Scruggs against tax-exempt hospitals. But King, it turned out, instead filed his amicus curiae brief to intervene to support Baptist, saying the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue under Alabama law.
"This lawsuit, if successful, would threaten the provision of charitable nonprofit healthcare in Alabama," King said in the news release. "I am convinced that the challenges contained in this litigation, far from ensuring the availability of indigent healthcare to those most dependent upon it, could destroy the system by which it is currently offered."
The next day, after actually reading King's petition, Forbes changed his tune and turned on King with the swiftness and sting of a rattlesnake. Without apology or explanation, he railed against the attorney general as a "stooge for price-gouging thugs" who, "after doing nothing for the uninsured, challenges uninsured victims' standing" and "counters the Bush administration's effort to end unfairness."
A reel diversion
Want a good distraction from claustrophobic MRI machines? New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C., has a cinematic solution: Patients can bring a movie and relax.
This summer, patients have been able to see a movie screen via goggles and hear the movie soundtrack through a headset as they slide in and out of the new magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, machine, according to the Associated Press. This and other similar fancy gadgets added to medical services are part of an ongoing competition among healthcare agencies to attract paying patients.
Gwen Jones recently handed the DVD version of "Big Fish" to a technician as she climbed onto the table and put on goggles and a headset.
The 58-year-old cancer survivor has had more than 15 MRIs since she was diagnosed with a brain tumor four years ago. "It's a happy movie, so that's why I chose it," says Jones.
An MRI scan shows an internal snapshot of a person's body. The process can be lengthy and, for some patients, claustrophobia-inducing. "When you put the goggles on, you're not in the magnet. Before you know it, your scan's over," says Bobbie Burn, manager of projects and business development for radiology.
The equipment, called virtual reality technology, cost the hospital $38,000, but it paid for itself in its first three weeks in operation, Burn says.
Exposed to another culture
Patients who hate wearing traditional hospital gowns can thank Muslims in Portland, Maine, for bringing awareness to the issue.
When Maine Medical Center's international clinics saw a high level of no-shows among their Somali patients-many of them Muslims-the hospital's multicultural coordinator did some digging in the community and discovered the reason for the cancellations: Muslim women were embarrassed to wear the "johnnies" that exposed patients' legs and backs, says Wayne Clark, a hospital spokesman.
The solution that made the patients more comfortable and ended the high level of cancellations is a specially designed sarong in a stronger fabric that covers all the necessary body parts, Clark says.
"Why haven't we done this sooner?" Clark asks. "Anyone who's ever worn one of those things hates it."
Hackensack (N.J.) University Medical Center implemented a gown change two years ago using New York designer Nicole Miller to make special scrub pants and other hospital garments for patients.
The new gowns allow patients to walk around the hospital "completely concealed as opposed to exposing themselves to the world," says Nancy Corcoran, vice president of service quality. "The objective was for patients to maintain their dignity and (be) comfortable."