Thursday, June 25, 2015

Childish, petty and vindictive: UPMC hospitals ban sale of Post-Gazette from their gift shops

Here's a new angle on how a healthcare organization might react to unfavorable press:

Ban the sale of the newspaper in question from their territory:

UPMC hospitals ban sale of Post-Gazette from their gift shops
June 24, 2015 12:00 AM

By Steve Twedt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Some UPMC hospitals are banning the Post-Gazette from sale in their gift shops, a move UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said was precipitated by “fairness issues” in the newspaper’s coverage of the health system.

At least three UPMC hospitals -- UPMC Shadyside, UPMC Mercy and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC -- say they will no longer sell the newspaper.

This seems simply retaliatory and in fact silly, as (at least hopefully) the newspaper will remain on sale in the rest of the city, as well as available online.  That is, assuming UPMC does not go on a vendetta against the newspaper, in its own in-house PR campaigns and mailings, in other media, or in the courts.

Twice in recent years, UPMC executives have canceled the health giant’s advertising in the PG, citing dissatisfaction with the way UPMC was covered in the news pages and how it was portrayed in editorials and editorial cartoons.

One wonders if UPMC has specifically identified false and inaccurate reporting.  Editorial cartoons are also standard fare for newspapers, and if they are not liked, the answer is written response, not banning IMO.

''The Post-Gazette is edited without regard to any special interest, and our news columns are not for sale, at any price,'' said John Robinson Block, publisher of the newspaper. ''We have been here since 1786, and have as our purpose the same goal that UPMC was established for -- to serve the public's interest, not a narrow purpose.''

As pointed out many times at Healthcare Renewal, the purpose of healthcare systems may not entirely be for serving the public's interests anymore.  Rather, they are serving the private interests of a small executive group who reward themselves handsomely for all being such uniformly superb, excellent and deserving managers.

As Roy Poses wrote at, and elsewhere:

... As we have said before, in US health care, the top managers/ administrators/ bureaucrats/ executives - whatever they should be called - continue to prosper ever more mightily as the people who actually take care of patients seem to work harder and harder for less and less. This is the health care version of the rising income inequality that the US public is starting to notice.

Thus, like hired managers in the larger economy, non-profit hospital managers have become "value extractors."  The opportunity to extract value has become a major driver of managerial decision making.  And this decision making is probably the major reason our health care system is so expensive and inaccessible, and why it provides such mediocre care for so much money. 

Back to the newspaper:

... UPMC officials did not respond Tuesday to questions asking which specific stories they found objectionable.

Perhaps anything that does not read like PR from a large advertising firm painting the organization in the finest light, and editorial cartoons showing executive halos....

''We believe that our coverage of UPMC has been fair-minded in every respect,'' said David M. Shribman, the newspaper's executive editor. ''Every entity in every town feels aggrieved at some point by what a good newspaper writes. It's part of living in a free society where the exchange of news and information is prized, not punished.''

It's sad when newspapers have to state the obvious.

But health system officials have often criticized stories, editorials, and editorial cartoons published in the Post-Gazette in recent years, most frequently in its coverage of the ongoing contract battle with insurer Highmark and, in years past, about the health giant's real-estate holdings and its business practices.

The answer to free speech is more free speech.  Colleges and universities are painfully learning this lesson (e.g., see the website of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Eduction, FIRE, at

I actually think a ban on selling the newspaper at UPMC facilities is childish.  UPMC executives seem a bunch of petty, vindictive crybabies for banning sale of the paper from their shops.

-- SS


Steve Lucas said...

This would be funny if it were not so pathetic.

The real issue is are stories being withheld in other markets due to the power of a large hospital and the board members ties to the business community? I would say yes.

In today’s world print media is in danger of becoming extinct and a large drop in advertising revenue may push a paper over the edge. We have lost those journalists who investigate both business and politicians. The ramifications to their employers have become so great that we no longer see the large pieces exposing wrong doing by these and others.

Private servers, destroyed tapes, refusal to answer, have all become the standard in our new brave world where you think what you are told to think, or pay the price.

Steve Lucas

Gene Uzawa Dorio, M.D. said...

As Steve Lucas mentioned in his comment, the print media is on the verge of becoming extinct. In our isolated community, we have only one local printed newspaper, and they are clearly reliant on advertising revenue to survive. The singular hospital we have serving our citizens is well aware of this, and has forced a ban on many writers critical of patient care.

When a new publisher came on board two year ago, I called and asked what his policy would be toward those who have been banned. As a business man, he was straight forward and said, “If you were in my position, what would you do Dr. Dorio?” Point taken. This daily paper is now 5 days a week, and is presently selling their building. (The La Brea Tar Pits are two valleys away!)

That is why I try to take advantage of other media outlets including the local radio station, TV, and several blog sites. Still, the hospital is maintaining control with their supportive news stories cloaked in clandestine glossy advertising.

The efforts of hospitals to control public vision is commonplace, but worse now is hiding information from view of the Medical Staff (including Sentinel Event, Root Cause Analysis, lawsuits, and complaints) minimizing the physician role in patient care.

As physician writers, we have to be creative and organized to fight hospital propaganda attempts to promote Administrator medical decision making. Doctors are becoming irrelevant, and are slowly meandering toward the La Brea Tar Pits as well.

Gene Uzawa Dorio, M.D.
Santa Clarita, CA

Anonymous said...

Oddly the Pittsburgh Trib became much more pro-UPMC after exposing the problems with the liver transplant service during the Marcos era. Wanna bet the saw an opportunity to capture more advertising $$ with a more pro-UPMC approach?

To get attention from UPMC you must first endanger it. Otherwise what motivation is there at UOPMC to fix it if it ain't broke? Of course at first it all bluster and hate from UPMC PR, but then somehow the people in control get sweet deals as they stop speaking the truth about UPMC.

David said...

Here's the opposite situation - newspapers that ignore all "bad" news about a hospital company.