Friday, January 29, 2010

What Happens When "We'll Manage it the Way We Damn Well Want"

Back in the early days of Health Care Renewal (2005, to be exact), we first wrote about some very strange actions by the management of Phoebe Putney Health System.  At first, we noted that the Phoebe Putney responded to a reporter's inquiry about lavish travel expenses pertaining to the system's Cayman Islands health insurance subsidiary by saying, "We own it. We'll manage it the way we damn well want."

Then the story got far more convoluted.  In 2006, we wrote about the over the top response to anonymous faxes challenged hospital management's commitment to the institution's mission.  The system CEO compared the fax senders to "terrorists."  After the local district attorney handed over his investigative records to hospital system private investigators, the investigators allegedly threatened a local accountant whom they accused of sending the faxes.  Allegations that the district attorney received campaign funding from and may have had other financial ties to the hospital system surfaced.  The district attorney indicted the accountant and a physician colleague on charges of burglary and assault in the absence of any police report of such crimes.  We commented that regardless of the outcomes of the legal case, the hospital system's management's actions seemed at variance with its stated mission.

Now, in 2010, the case is in the news again.  Since our last post, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the prosecution of the accountant, Mr Charles Rehberg, and physician, Dr John Bagnato, failed.  The district attorney, Ken Hodges,
provided the information gathered through the subpoenas to Phoebe Putney, which the hospital system used to file a civil suit against Rehberg and Bagnato -- a suit that was ultimately dropped. Rehberg then countersued Phoebe Putney, and that case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Meanwhile, more ties between Hodges and the Pheobe Putney system turned up:
Hodges' decision to run for attorney general elevated the case from a localized matter to one of statewide import. While still a prosecutor in Albany, Hodges received political contributions from Phoebe Putney executives and individuals connected to the hospital system, and his wife was hired as public affairs manager at Phoebe Putney's hospital in Albany.

Since leaving the prosecutor's office in Dougherty County, Hodges has gone to work for the Baudino Law Group, which represents Phoebe Putney. According to records Phoebe Putney must file with the Internal Revenue Service, the hospital system paid Baudino more than $8 million for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2008, the most recent data available.

Now, it is Rehberg who is suing Hodges, for abuse of power. "Charles Rehberg's suuit essentially accuses him and another prosecutor of filing criminal chargest that they knew to be based on fabricated information." A preliminary hearing took place yesterday.

So, in summary, two individuals sent anonymous faxes that charged that the Phoebe Putney system failed "to fulfill its charitable obligations as tax-exempt entity."  Hospital system executives accused them of terrorism, and hospital system investigators allegedly threatened them.  However, a criminal investigation by a district attorney with alleged financial ties to the hospital system ended without any convictions.  A lawsuit by the system against the individuals was dropped.  A suit by the indviduals against the hospital system was settled by the system.  A suit by the individuals charging that the then district attorney abused his power by basing criminal charges on false information is pending. 

So what did the hospital system's management's actions in this case have to do with the system's stated values? -
Phoebe pursues its mission through a patient-centered environment of care reflecting high standards and promoting a balance of professional preparation and service, continuous improvement and based on core values where:

* PEOPLE come first, are treated with dignity and respect, and diversity of culture and thought is respected.
* RELATIONSHIPS are built on honesty and integrity.
* REPUTATION is built on trust and pride.

In fact, the Phoebe Putney management's pursuit of Mr Rehberg and Dr Bagnato seems diametrically opposed to these values, intended to crush all criticism of management by any means. Once again, we see leaders of once-respected not-for-profit health care institutions whose main goal seems to be consolidating their power and thwarting criticism.

I say again, to truly reform health care, our health care organizations must be lead by those who put the institutions' missions ahead of their self-interest, who manage according to the mission rather than "the way we damn well want."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ken Hodges does not even deny that he did what he is accused of--his defense is that he has total prosecutorial immunity for everything he did. The 11th. Circuit Court of Appeals really only has two options. 1) they can rule that Hodges is a bad guy, but allow him to get away with it under immunity theory, or 2) they can rule that Hodges is a bad guy, and must get what is coming to him. Either way, the clear facts establish that Ken Hodges is a bad guy that should not be elected Attorney General of the State of Georgia.