If anyone is prepared to be the chairman of the Federation of American Hospitals, its Keith Pitts. It helps that hes the vice chairman of Vanguard Health Systems, Nashville, and has plenty of experience working in investor-owned hospital companies. But hes also been chairman-elect of the federationtwice.
The night before he was installed as chairman during the first full day of the federations annual meeting in Washington this week, Pitts recalled that he was on the cusp of being the lobby groups chairman in 1997, too. At the time, Pitts was an executive with OrNda HealthCorp, which, like Vanguard, was led by Charles Martin, a former HCA and HealthTrust executive.
Just before the federations 1997 annual meeting, Tenet Healthcare Corp. announced it was buying OrNda, Pitts said, so he decided to resign from the federations leadership rather than serve as chairman while his company was ceasing to exist.
Perhaps Tenet wishes that Pitts had been able to go through with his chairmanship the first time, as the company has divested most of the hospitals that it acquired in the OrNda deal, including two in Massachusetts that Tenet sold to Vanguard.
Wash upand were watching
There are literally hundreds of people looking to sell products at the federations annual meeting. The Marriott Wardman Park Hotel is fertile ground for peddlers, loaded with buyers of all typesboth for-profit and not-for-profit group purchasing organizations and hospital systems. Most of the sellers are the usual suspects looking to sell medical devices, pharmaceuticals and other supplies to hospitals.
Then, there was Ron Cagle.
Cagle had a product to pitch, for sure, but he seemed to have a loftier goal than mere sales. He wants to start a revolution in hand hygiene.
I encountered Cagle near the end of Sunday nights opening reception. Cagle works for Sprixx, which is owned by Harbor Medical, Santa Barbara, Calif. Harbor Medical sells teeth-whitening products to dentists. Sprixx sells a hand-sanitizing device that is attached to a lanyard and worn around the neck. Cagle was wearing one Sunday night, and I noticed one other person walking around with one.
The Sprixx pitch is that its only a matter of time before elected officials and the public demand better hand sanitation practices from hospital employees. If they dont, Sprixxs promotional materials suggest, trial lawyers will.
The Sprixx device doesnt rely solely on convenience to get the job done. The devices also record each time they are used, and every three months, that data is harvested, Cagle said.
Sprixx was using the federations annual meeting to find a hospital system to give its hand sanitizer a large-scale test, Cagle said.
Chip the placeholder
If Chip Kahn ever leaves his post as president of the Federation of American Hospitals to run for the U.S. Senate, hell have to work on his filibustering skills.
The program Tuesday morning included several high-profile speakers: Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. Getting them all into the hotel and up on the stage on time wasnt easy, however.
Kahn noted that the trains always run, but not precisely on the schedule hed like. After Rangels speech kicked off the session, Pitts, the Federations new chairman, thanked the attendees and the sponsors and passed the baton back to Kahn. As he filled time waiting for McCain to take the stage, Kahn said, Elvis is in the building. We just have to wait till he gets to the green room. What do you say to a thousand people as youre trying to stall?
Kahn also used the Elvis line the day before, as five senior legislative aides were making their way from Capitol Hill to the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
Speaking of those senior legislative aides, their talk on healthcare in the 110th Congress, moderated by Susan Dentzer of The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer on PBS, was open to reporters on the condition that the aides not be named in any coverage. Dentzer slipped in that proviso just as the panel was to begin its discussion. Dentzer lamented the restriction, but noted its the Washington way, as aides to elected officials in both the executive and legislative branches, and at agencies such as the CMS and HHS, typically speak to reporters only on backgroundthat is, without sticking their necks out for public scrutiny.
Theres something a little odd to a reporterat least one who isnt based in Washingtonabout being told not to report something that a few hundred people saw and heard.
The situations are vastly different, but there was a little irony, too, that this occurred a day before a federal jury in Washington convicted former vice presidential aide I. Lewis Scooter Libby on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to the FBI. Libby was accused of trying to hide his conversations with reporters regarding Valerie Plame, a former undercover operative for the CIA. Libby, who was not the original source of the leak, discussed Plame with reporters only after they agreed they wouldnt name him in any stories that resulted from the talks.
Dentzer had the best line of the day. She made it regarding the grim federal budget outlook sketched by David Walker, comptroller general of the U.S. Government Accounting Office, in the opening speech of the annual meeting. After I listen to David Walker, Dentzer said, I always feel like I need a fifth of Scotch.