Hospitals should be on the lookout for shady characters posing as surveyors for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.
The JCAHO is telling its some 375 employees with survey responsibilities, "Be prepared to be challenged. And if you're not being challenged, you should ask why," says Joe Cappiello, vice president of accreditation field operations at the JCAHO.
The warning comes amid three incidents in which suspicious individuals posed as JCAHO surveyors. At two of those facilities, in Boston and Los Angeles, individuals asked to tour the facilities at 3 a.m. When pressed for identification, the posers fled the scene.
"I wouldn't speculate on what that means, but it seemed a little odd," Cappiello says. The similarity of the two incidents, which occurred within days of each other on Feb. 26 and March 3, raised enough concern that Cappiello contacted the FBI. He says he has no reason at this time to believe it's related to terrorism activities but he can't rule it out either.
"One's imagination could run the gamut," Cappiello says. "It's a strange age that we live in. Healthcare is a potential terrorist target. How can you not think of it?"
Something to keep in mind about surveyors: About 95% of activity, Cappiello says, takes place between normal business hours-or 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. On the rare occasions that surveyors may have to visit the facility during off-hours, it would center on a complaint during the night shift. In all instances, surveyors should present two pieces of identification-an official badge and a letter addressed to the hospital's chief executive officer on JCAHO letterhead, listing names of surveyors, and signed by the executive vice president of accreditation operations.
Cappiello says the organization is in the process of posting a facsimile of ID badges and surveyor photos on a secure extranet Web site.
On a mission
Medical ethicist Matthew Wynia jumped at the chance to do the right thing last month, eagerly signing on as a volunteer for Project HOPE and joining other physicians to help staff the appropriately named USNS Mercy on its mission to Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
Wynia, director of the Institute for Ethics at the Chicago-based American Medical Association, will offer his expertise as an infectious-disease specialist through the end of this month aboard the San Diego-based hospital ship. The Mercy arrived in the devastated area in mid-January as part of a massive relief effort that is expected to continue for some time.
"I decided to help because I can," Wynia said last week in an e-mail response to several questions about his monthlong medical mission.
Wynia and about 120 other volunteers are supplementing the regular medical crew of the Mercy, which has a total capacity of about 1,000 patient-care beds. "The situation here is still devastating," Wynia wrote. "And it will be for months and probably years to come. The pictures don't do justice to the destructive powers of this event."
He said a local physician who works at a hospital that is now slowly being rebuilt in Banda Aceh serves as something of a symbol of the resilience of so many people struggling to restore a semblance of order after a disaster that has already claimed more than a quarter of a million victims. That doctor, Wynia wrote, lost his wife, his children and his home to the tsunami, yet "somehow he keeps going."
"I don't know how he does it, and it is enough to make you cry," Wynia wrote.
New on eBay: $200 pacemakers
Maybe the bargain hunter who unearthed two $6,000 pacemakers on the Internet at a fraction of their retail value should have passed on the deal. Or called the police.
It turns out the devices were actually looted from Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento, Calif., by a former employee who then sold them on eBay for $200 apiece. The theft was uncovered when Medtronic asked Sutter why one of those devices was implanted at a facility subleased by Advanced Cardiac Specialists, a privately owned physician group based in Phoenix. The Arizona Medical Board is curious, too. They've launched an investigation into the matter. Timothy Miller, Advanced's executive director, says he can't comment because his firm is continuing the investigation.
The physician group says it hasn't done anything wrong, saying in a news release that it couldn't have known the devices were stolen because of the "triple hermetically sealed wrapper system from the manufacturer, with all serial numbers and warranty information enclosed." The group has since checked on the patient, handed over the unused device and cooperated with police, the release says.
Pedaling their wares
Some cyclists from around the world made a pit stop at Children's Hospital in Madera, Calif.
The group of about 50 riders, including several Olympic contenders, visited young patients and left behind gifts. The cyclists, in town for the Central Valley Classic races held in Fresno, Calif., on March 12 and 13, stopped by to lift the children's spirits and brought them gifts. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Children's Hospital patient Parker Fritsch, who is undergoing a bone marrow transplant. "It's pretty heart-wrenching to see some of these kids and what they go through," race director Mike Shuemake says.