Healthcare's most notorious serial killer, Charles Cullen, has met with New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey to share how he was able to "penetrate the system" and take the lives of at least 24 hospital patients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania over a 16-year nursing career.
Cullen, who is serving multiple life sentences with no chance of parole, met with Harvey in two four-hour sessions on consecutive days earlier this month. They plan to meet again soon, says Paul Loriquet, a Harvey spokesman. The meetings were part of Cullen's plea agreement with prosecutors in return for avoiding the death penalty. He's being held at the Somerset (N.J.) County Jail.
The attorney general hopes to get enough information from the discussions to compile a series of recommendations for the state Board of Medical Examiners and nursing board on "how to better protect patients and hospitals," Loriquet says. Harvey is "looking at controls inside of the hospitals where Mr. Cullen worked that gave him access to medication. We want to figure out how to best store medications, particularly lethal medications, and how nurses get access to these medications," he says.
Harvey told the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., that Cullen believes the best deterrent "is the certainty of detection" through using more video surveillance, swipe cards and other security controls. Harvey also told the paper that Cullen unexpectedly showed some remorse. "He accepts more responsibility than he expresses remorse, but he certainly does both."
Medicare and ... huh?
If the CMS were a student and congressional Democrats an English composition teacher, the 2006 Medicare & You handbook would likely have been returned with the note: "See me after class."
So confusing were drafts of the handbook that the congressmen wrote a letter last week to CMS Administrator Mark McClellan, describing it as "rife with omissions and inaccuracies" that could "exacerbate, not mitigate, beneficiary confusion later this year" and asking that production on it be stopped.
"The draft handbook obtained by our staff raises serious concerns both about the effectiveness of the 2006 handbook in describing those changes and the subsequent effect it will have on beneficiaries," says the letter, signed by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), ranking minority member of the House Ways and Means Committee and John Dingell (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Advocacy groups have also voiced their dissatisfaction with the new handbook, which this year attempts to describe the new prescription drug benefit.
One statement in the book says Medicare pays part of drug costs once the deductible is met. "This is wrong," the letter to McClellan reads. "As you know, under the standard benefit, the coverage gap for prescription drugs means that many beneficiaries will be subject to a period without coverage after the deductible is met, despite paying monthly premiums. But the handbook does not even mention this likelihood."
In a response, the CMS announced it will revise the handbook to address some of the concerns. McClellan told the New York Times that the agency can "communicate some things more effectively, more simply and more clearly." He says he will "thoroughly review the handbook before it becomes final."
A Long Island couple last week gave birth to its 30th and 31st children at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, N.Y.
The proud parents are Meadow and Brook, two peregrine falcons that first began courting on the high ledges of the 19-story hospital in 1996. Named after the hospital's original name of Meadowbrook, Meadow is the female and Brook is the male. (We asked.) Unlike many humans, falcons mate for life and display "a strong nest site fidelity," hospital officials note. They eat mainly other birds such as pigeons, which is a real service in certain New York neighborhoods.
In 1996, the hospital was alerted to the new residents by an observant neighbor. Hospital officials then contacted the New York Department of Environmental Protection, which in 1997 installled a nest box on the 17th-floor ledge where the couple had been laying their eggs.
"It's not luxurious," says Shelley Lotenberg, a hospital spokeswoman, but it was meant to "facilitate the process and safeguard the eggs." Facilitate it did: Four babies hatched that first year. In subsequent years, Meadow and Brook were equally fruitful, multiplying their brood each season.
The close-up view of the prolific marriage has given the hospital a great deal of expertise in the mating habits of peregrines, but once they mature, hospital officials have not been able to keep track of the flock. "Who knows?" Lotenberg says, sounding like a resigned relative. "They could be on a bridge in Chicago someplace."
Hail that issue
The battleground to get hospitals, particularly not-for-profit facilities, to change their billing policies toward the uninsured, is moving in Washington. Yes, it's being debated on Capitol Hill, but Outliers found the debate had moved to taxis.
Interest groups, including one named the Hospital Victims Project, have sponsored cab receipts that are meant to draw attention to what they say are unethical practices by hospitals in dealing with uninsured patients. "Hospitals charge the uninsured as much as five times the amount they charge to people with insurance," reads one receipt. "In 2004, the top 10 nonprofit hospitals and systems made more than $1 billion."
Michael Ver Kamp, who helps run the site hospitalvictims.com, says the campaign is twofold: to raise public awareness of the issue and "to get a response from hospitals," such as lowering their prices for uninsured patients. The campaign will target California, Florida and Colorado in the future, Ver Kamp says. The Hospital Victims Project is a project of the Fairness Foundation, a not-for-profit consumer advocacy group.
Alicia Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the American Hospital Association, called the receipts "a novel approach ... but it remains a fact that the nation's hospitals devote a lot of care to the uninsured and the underinsured."