Phoebe Putney Health System is a health care system in Georgia, which boasts of "world-class medicine, hometown commitment." Its stated core values include "people come first," and "relationships are built on honesty and integrity."
Pheobe Putney was the subject of federal lawsuits, now dismissed, and state lawsuits alleging that it over-charged uninsured patients. It is one of the hospital systems that is now subject of congressional investigations of the not-for-profit status of hospitals and health systems. (See news article here.)
Now, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported that top Phoebe Putney executives have run up lavish travel expenses for trips related to a for-profit subsidy. Pheobe Putney set up Grove Pointe Indemnity, based in the Cayman Islands, to provide the system with malpractice insurance. Top Phoebe Putney executives traveled to the Caymans, the Bahamas, and London, UK for Grove Pointe meetings. All travel was by private jet or first class on commercial airliners. Travel expenses included Cuban cigars, ($258 worth for one meal in London meeting), expensive beverages ($538 for one meal), and high-end accomodations (e.g., rooms at the Ritz in London, at 355 pounds sterling a night).
The Journal-Constitution asked Phoebe Putney Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Kerry Loudermilk about these expenses. Loudermilk first said what is lavish "is in the eye of the beholder." He responded to further questions about Grove Pointe, "We own it. We'll manage it the way we damn well want." A search of the GuideStar site for Pheobe Putney's 2002 Internal Revenue Service form 990 revealed that Grove Pointe had an income just under $2.5 million, and a total loss of just over $1.25 million in that year. Meanwhile, Loudermilk's total compensation was just under $3oo,ooo. He was one of eight executives who made more than $200,ooo. Three made over $300,000, and the system's CEO made nearly $600,000.
It will be interesting to see what the congressional investigation discovers about Phoebe Putney. Meanwhile, Loudermilk's response suggests that maybe the hired managers of this not-for-profit health care system feel a bit more ownership of it than they are entitled to. Although Pheobe Putney clearly owns Grove Pointe Indemnity, the managers of a not-for-profit do not own the organization. They should be running the organization in accord with its mission to benefit the public, which may not necessarily be the way they "damn well want." It's not clear that this job entitles them to smoke Cuban cigars on the health system's budget.
"The idea that a university needs a discrete individual to be in charge of “integrity” or ethical conduct at all seems contrary to the very idea of a university as a place where learned people (teachers) instruct the to-be-learned in academic disciplines all of which have fairly well-understood ethical rules." - The University of North Carolina is creating a new position: "Chief Integrity Officer." Press Millen, a Raleigh trial lawyer, is not impressed.
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