Friday, September 30, 2005

The Hospital Gives the Mayor a "Courtesy"

The Boston Globe reported that Brigham and Women's Hospital failed to charge Boston Mayor Thomas Menino for surcharges normally incurred by stays in the luxury Shapiro Pavilion. Rooms there usually cost more than $800 per night beyond usual hospital fees. Hospital spokesman Peter D. Brown explained, "we have an obligation (under federal law) to maintain the needed level of privacy and security for all of our patients, and that was the reason for moving the major ... and assuming the cost of that move." Menino "assumed the hospital paid the extra cost as a 'courtesy' to him." The hospital also noted "two other political figures stayed there [at the Shapiro Pavilion] for the same privacy and security reasons. Neither was billed...."
City Councilor (and candidate for mayor) Maura Hennigan has just called for a State Ethics Commission investigation, according to another Globe article. "As an elected official, Mayor Menino has an obligation to disclose any donated services that have a value placed on them. The $5,000 value far exceeds the guidelines set by the state conflict-of-interest law or under ethics guidelines issued by the city's Office of Human Services."
In an op-ed column in the Providence Journal, David A. Mittell Jr. wrote, "Mayor Menino received two free passes to Shapiro Pavilion, in 2003 and 2004, at a time when the [Brigham and Women's] hospital's $315 million redevelopment of the Longwood Medical Area was pneding before the Boston Redevelopment Authority [BRA]. The BRA finally approved the plan in January 2005." Mittell noted that the hospital "says it upgraded the mayor to a room in the Shapiro Pavilion because the many visitors to his private room in an open ward were endangering his medical treatment and personal secruity. But this is absurd: The mayor is provided with continuous police security, at taxpayer's expense." So, " What I think 'courtesy' (as Mr. Menino puts it) translates into is 'non-specific bribe.'" Furthermore, although "the hospital notes that two other unnamed prominent political leaders also received free pampering in Shapiro Pavilion .... But that confession doesn't get the hospital off the hook. Rather, it shows a pattern of favoritism."
The Brigham and Women's Hospital has an international reputation. Thus, it's a sad day when it is accused of bribery and favoritism.
Then again, we have argued that concentration and abuse of power have become endemic in health care, so we shouldn't be surprised when even our most revered institutions find some mud clinging to them.
The big question is, when will we start cleaning them up.

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