Lots of hospitals have tried a variety of diversification strategies over the past couple of decades -- everything from managed care to laundry services to real estate. Now one is joining the ranks of hospitals that publish books.
Florida Hospital in Orlando kicked off its publishing venture with Super Sized Kids: How to Rescue Your Child from the Obesity Threat. The book is written for the general public and is intended to enlighten families about the modern epidemic of obesity, which affects one in four kids. It was written by Florida family physician Walt Larimore and Florida Hospital nutrition expert Sherri Flynt. One of the points Flynt stresses is the importance of families working together to attain healthy eating habits, such as having dinner at the kitchen table instead of in front of the television.
Super Sized Kids (not to be confused with the documentary "Super Size Me") will be on bookstore shelves Aug. 24 and is being distributed by Time Warner Book Group. It will also be available online through Amazon.com.
The 1,746-bed hospital will publish a second book titled Pain-Free for Life next summer. Todd Chobotar, director of the publishing department, says it plans to issue four to six books annually. Time Warner will cover the production costs.
Chobotar says the notion of publishing books arose as Florida Hospital Chief Executive Officer Don Jernigan challenged hospital executives to influence people outside of the organization as the hospital approaches its 100th anniversary in 2008. They thought they could widen the hospital's clinical impact by drawing on the knowledge of its employees.
Officials say any profits from Super Sized Kids will be used for charitable programs. A decision regarding the proceeds of future books hasn't been made, Chobotar says.
According to the American Hospital Association, only a few hospitals have their own publishing divisions. Some high-profile facilities such as Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic are noted for producing medical information books aimed at consumers.
"It's certainly a good idea, a better way to provide healthcare to the community," says David Allen, a spokesman for the AHA.
Some operations are just criminal
Some hospital employees apparently are devising business ventures of their own -- one of them online and international.
The Associated Press reports that authorities charged a hospital worker in Evansville, Ind., last week with stealing more than $200,000 in medical equipment and selling some of it on eBay.
Brian Pickens, 31, was charged with one count of theft and released from the Vanderburgh County Jail on $1,000 bond. More charges are possible, police say. He was also fired from Evansville's St. Mary's Medical Center, where he worked for three years as a patient-care technician, hospital spokesman Jeff Jones says. The position is a type of nurse's aide.
Pickens sold some of the supplies on eBay and made as many as 200 transactions within the last year and a half, netting more than $12,000, police Detective Kirk Pritchett says. He dealt on the black market in Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom, and in several U.S. states, Pritchett adds.
Pickens' lawyer, Scott Danks, says that his client acknowledged wrongdoing, but the value of the equipment was "hugely exaggerated." Danks says Pickens bought some of the medical equipment from yard sales and online, hoping to resell it for a profit. Most of the items taken from St. Mary's have been returned, he says.
"Not all of the items came from the hospital," Danks says. "Some of the items taken from the hospital were items that had been discarded. The actual loss to the hospital will not be very significant."
The $200,000 estimate on how much was stolen "will go higher," possibly several hundred thousand dollars more, according to Pritchett. Many of the items have already been shipped out of the country, and police are still estimating their value.
Pickens had access to the locked surgical distribution center in the hospital's basement, where he was authorized to remove items such as linens and patient gowns, Jones says. He gradually accumulated thousands of pieces, taking a few boxes at a time, police say. The supplies belonged to vendors, who brought them to the hospital for surgeons to evaluate.
"It was just a slight breakdown in some security, and he exploited that," Pritchett says.
The thefts went undetected for more than a year until a vendor reported a spine set -- valued at $116,000 -- missing on July 26. The vendor found the set on eBay. Using the seller's screen name, eBay security officers provided Evansville police with a name and address.
Job title becomes a fast fit
We had the same reaction to Marjorie Smelstor's job title that she did when Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., hired her as chief acceleration officer four years ago.
"I thought he was pulling my leg," says Smelstor, whose curriculum vitae includes such heavyweight titles as university provost, chancellor and dean. She worried the offbeat title would undermine her credibility. "I'm a pretty respected and respectable person," Smelstor says. Executive or not, a title like that would convince people that she had "gone wacko," she quips.
That was four years ago. "I have come to find out that is has really suited me," she says. "It's a conversation starter, never a conversation stopper." (She acknowledges that traffic police might also say "chief accelerator" fits her nicely.)
Smelstor's job is to provoke cultural and operational changes, she says. Truman's president and chief executive officer, John Bluford, concocted the name to send the message that the hospital is changing rapidly, she says.
She founded TMC Corporate Academy, an educational and professional development program for the medical center's employees, volunteers and their families. She had a hand in developing a medical spa to meet community demands for care that addresses the spirit and soul -- and to attract paying customers to a safety-net hospital, she says. "Supposedly everything I touch, any opportunity I can see or create," should be an opportunity to turn ideas into reality, she says.