Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Plot Thickens - How Corrupt was the Trump Administration Under Which Health Care (and the Rest of the US) Operated from 2017 - 2021?

This week, reports appeared that former US President Donald Trump, the Trump Organization of which he is the principal owner, and other people connected to the Trump Organization are the subjects of a special grand jury investigation going on in New York City.  As the Washington Post reported,

 Manhattan's district attorney has convened the grand jury that is expected to decide whether to indict former president Donald Trump, other executives at his company or the business itself, should prosecutors present the panel with criminal charges, according to two people familiar with the development.


 The move indicates that District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s investigation of the former president and his business has reached an advanced stage after more than two years. It suggests, too, that Vance thinks he has found evidence of a crime — if not by Trump, by someone potentially close to him or by his company.

Vance’s investigation is expansive, according to people familiar with the probe and public disclosures made during related litigation. His investigators are scrutinizing Trump’s business practices before he was president, including whether the value of specific properties in the Trump Organization’s real estate portfolio were manipulated in a way that defrauded banks and insurance companies, and if any tax benefits were obtained illegally through unscrupulous asset valuation.

The district attorney also is examining the compensation provided to top Trump Organization executives, people familiar with the matter have said.

To my knowledge, even though the grand jury could return no indictments, such an investigation of a former president and his business is unprecedented in modern times.  It suggests the possibility that this particular president was more unethical and corrupt than any other, and that he might turn out to be the only actually criminal president.  Thus it suggests that all our concerns about unethical practices, conflicts of interest, and corruption of the Trump administration, and their effects on corruption in other sectors, particularly health care, were not unfounded.

Thus, I will take this opportunity to review these concerns.

  Background: Health Care Corruption

As we wrote in August, 2017, Transparency International (TI) defines corruption as

Abuse of entrusted power for private gain

In 2006, TI published a report on health care corruption, which asserted that corruption is widespread throughout the world, serious, and causes severe harm to patients and society.
the scale of corruption is vast in both rich and poor countries.
Corruption might mean the difference between life and death for those in need of urgent care. It is invariably the poor in society who are affected most by corruption because they often cannot afford bribes or private health care. But corruption in the richest parts of the world also has its costs.
The report got little attention.  Health care corruption has been nearly a taboo topic in the US, anechoic, presumably because its discussion would offend the people it makes rich and powerful. As suggested by the recent Transparency International report on corruption in the pharmaceutical industry,
However, strong control over key processes combined with huge resources and big profits to be made make the pharmaceutical industry particularly vulnerable to corruption. Pharmaceutical companies have the opportunity to use their influence and resources to exploit weak governance structures and divert policy and institutions away from public health objectives and towards their own profit maximising interests.

Presumably the leaders of other kinds of corrupt organizations can do the same. 

When health care corruption is discussed in English speaking developed countries, it is almost always in terms of a problem that affects some other places, mainly  presumably benighted less developed countries.  At best, the corruption in developed countries that gets discussed is at low levels.  In the US, frequent examples are the "pill mills"  and various cheating of government and private insurance programs by practitioners and patients.  Lately these have gotten even more attention as they are decried as a cause of the narcotics (opioids) crisis (e.g., look here).  In contrast, the US government has been less inclined to address the activities of the leaders of the pharmaceutical companies who have pushed legal narcotics (e.g., see this post). 

However, Health Care Renewal has stressed "grand corruption," or the corruption of health care leaders.  We have noted the continuing impunity of top health care corporate managers.  Health care corporations have allegedly used kickbacks and fraud to enhance their revenue, but at best such corporations have been able to make legal settlements that result in fines that small relative to their  multi-billion revenues without admitting guilt.  Almost never are top corporate managers subject to any negative consequences.

We have been posting about this for years at Health Care Renewal, while seeing little progress on this issue.

 Health Care Corruption in the Context of a Corrupt Government

Instead, things from 2017 - 2021 only seemed to be getting worse, given the increasing evidence that the Trump administration was corrupt at the highest levels.   In January, 2018, we first raised the question about how health care corruption could be pursued under a corrupt regime.  We noted sources that summarized Trump's. the Trump family's, and the Trump administration's corruption..  These included a website, entitled "Tracking Trump's Conflicts of Interest" published by the Sunlight Foundation, and two articles published in the Washington Monthly in January, 2018. "Commander-in-Thief," categorized Mr Trump's conflicted and corrupt behavior.  A Year in Trump Corruption," was a catalog of the most salient cases in these categories in 2017.

In July, 2018, we addressed the Trump regime's corruption again  By then, more summaries of Trump et al corruption had appeared.   In April, 2018, New York Magazine published "501 Days in Swampland," a time-line of  starting just after the 2016 presidential election. In June, 2018, ProPublica reviewed questionable spending amounting to $16.1 million since the beginning of Trump's candidacy for president at Trump properties by the US government, and by Trump's campaign, and by state and local governments. Meanwhile, Public Citizen released a report on money spent at Trump's hospitality properties.

In October, 2018, we summarized the content of the voluminous Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration summary appearing in the Global Anti-Corruption Blog. The blog organized corrupt activities within the Trump administration into the following categories:

1. U.S. Government Payments to the Trump Organization

2. Use of the Power of the Presidency to Promote Trump Brands

3. U.S. Government Regulatory and Policy Decisions that Benefit Business Interests of the Trump Family and Senior Advisors

4. Private and Foreign Interests Seeking to Influence the Trump Administration Through Dealings with Trump Businesses

Not only was the report voluminous, the October, 2018, version of the report requiring 26 pages to print, it suggested that many examples of corruption by Trump et al were not one-offs, but were long-term activities.  For example, every time President Trump travels to on of the properties he owns through the Trump Organization, for example, has Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the US government is obligated to pay Trump himself through that organization for various expenses, e.g., the Secret Service renting golf carts at Mar-a-Lago.  Each time that happens it seems to violate the "domestic emolument clause" of the US Constitution, which prohibits state or US government payments to a President for anything other than his salary.  Also, foreign governments and corporations seeking to promote specific government policies in their self-interest, similarly seeking favorable regulations, or other seeking to influence government actions in their favor are making periodic payments to the Trump Organization, such as buying accommodations or paying for events at Trump properties.  When foreign governments do so, that appears to violate the "foreign emoluments clause" of  the US Constitution, which prohibits payments by a foreign government to the US President.

Further reports on Trump and associates' conflicts of interest and corruption appeared through 2019, as further documented in this post.


We noted in our last summary post on conflicts of interest and corruption in the Trump administration that the topics of corruption, health care corruption, and the likely corruption of the Trump administration remained largely anechoic.   

Despite the extensive and ever-increasing list of apparently corrupt acts by the Trump and cronies, grand corruption at the top of US government, with its potential to corrupt not just health care, but the entire country and society, still seems like a taboo topic.  The US news media continues to tip-toe around the topic of corruption, in health care, of top health care leaders, and in government, including the top of the US executive branch.  As long as such discussion seems taboo, how can we ever address, much less reduce the scourge of corruption?  The first step against health care corruption is to be able to say or write the words, health care corruption.

Once Trump left office, there has not been much more discussion.  There have been brief reports in the media that many investigations of Trump and cronies are ongoing.  For example, an article in the
Washington Post in March 2021 noted "the [NY] state attorney general has subpoenaed his lawyers, his bankers, his chief financial officer — even one of his sons.... Former president Donald Trump is also facing criminal investigations in Georgia and the District of Columbia related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election."  Also, "In Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) has also opened a criminal investigation into Trump’s actions on Jan. 6" and "the Justice Department, in the meantime, is conducting a broad investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack."  Yet, as we documented here, prior to becoming president, Trump and his associates enjoyed practical impunity, escaping convictions and penalties multiple times. There is no certainty he will not maintain his impunity in the future.

Trump is no longer president, but he enjoys continuing support from many in his party, and has suggested he might run again.  How will we ever make a meaningful dent in health care corruption if we cannot end the impunity of our top political leadership? 

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Guest Post: Advocating Restoring the Leadership of Hospitals by Medical Professionals, Thus Reversing the Managers' Coup D'Etat

Health Care Renewal presents a guest post by Dr. Gene Dorio.  Dr Dorio  is a geriatric physician from the Santa Clarita Valley in California,  providing house calls to older adults.  He has been an advocate and whistleblower for his community leading several causes from attempting to preserve the hospital Transitional Care Unit for seniors in 2006, to today trying to allow admission of teens to the psychiatric unit.

He is President of the Los Angeles County Commission for Older Adults, an elected Assembly Member of the California Senior Legislature, serves on the Triple-A Council of California, and member of the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center Advisory Board.

For 5 years, Dr. Dorio served on his hospital’s Medical Staff Executive Committee in several leadership roles including 3 years as Chairman of the Department of Medicine. 

 Doctors are highly trained medical professionals trying to survive in a complex sociopolitical system.  We have been pawns utilized by hospitals and government for our knowledge and skills, yet more recently expected not to have a voice or opinion.

As a physician in private practice for 40 years, changes in the past 10 years have been difficult.  It was hard for me to hear non-medical business administrators force cut-rate medicine compromising evidence-based patient care.

I was elected to the hospital Medical Executive Committee (MEC) seven years ago with the hope from the inside I could improve threats against patient care.  This did not succeed and the fury coming from the hospital intensified as the self-governing MEC was swallowed up by the Board of Directors and Administration.

Doctor voices protecting patients diminished, and many whistleblowers were left to defend themselves from bullying and attacks.  

Lies and insults persisted, and the only power I had was knocking out keyboard articles to social media as a shield.  Throughout the country, there were scant physicians in the same situation, so we networked the best we could to survive.  “Never give up” was our mantra.

Periodically murmurs could be heard, but it was always muffled.

This year in California, a law was introduced in the State Senate to keep hospital administrators from “practicing medicine without a license.”   Most doctors don’t know about it, but of course the state hospital association is diligently fighting it.

It can be seen here.  

At the end of April, I was asked to testify at the State Senate Health Committee, and this is what I provided:


Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the California Senate Health Committee.

My name is Gene Dorio, and I am a geriatric physician in Santa Clarita serving my community for 34 years.

Until two years ago, I was on staff at a local hospital which is a non-profit, but run like a for-profit hospital.  For 5 years, I served on the Medical Staff Executive Committee in several leadership roles including 3 years as Chairman of the Department of Medicine.  

During my time there, I witnessed administrators use manipulative, clandestine tactics to capture each voting facet of the health facility, including the Board of Directors, contracted physician groups, and the Medical Staff so business people could make patient-care decisions.

At my hospital, business community members were appointed to the Board of Directors and provided lucrative contracts in exchange for their vote.  Bankers were given hospital accounts; a real estate agent was given property to rent; and a doctor was given space for a dialysis unit.

Exclusive Contracts were signed by physician groups for emergency room care, radiology, and operating room anesthesia.  The hospital could not technically practice medicine, but they coerced these groups with the threat of severing contracts if they did not adhere to their orders, or vote as told. Needless to say the administration got their votes, while the Medical Staff became only a shell of a self-governing body once devoted to improving patient care.

Eventually, the Medical Staff was taken over too, and our policies were changed to bring in more revenue—even when it was terrible for patients. My patients are geriatric, and at times clinging to life. Nonetheless, staff started to leave daily notes on my charts forcing me to discharge patients even though they were not ready to leave the hospital. These notes included a printed statement “Not a Part of the Medical Record” which was removed later by the Medical Records Department erasing hospital culpability.

Hospital administrators also knowingly wrote orders without doctor consent for Palliative Consults, to place patients on hospice care which financially benefits the hospital by getting them out of the hospital for care.  

They also made decisions about medications patients could receive. They decided not to use insulin pens as they were too expensive, and instead jeopardized diabetic patient care using multi-source insulin vials which are less precise and easily contaminated.  The presiding CEO was released from their previous hospital after violating State Medi-Cal laws substituting inferior anesthesia in the labor and delivery department.

Hospitals also hold regular “throughput” meetings for physicians, where they publicly display the number of referrals, expensive tests, procedures, and overall revenue that each doctor is generating. They talk about productivity and efficiency—not the quality of patient care.

Because I tried to advocate for my patients, my hospital privileges were constantly in jeopardy. Typically, privileges are renewed every two years.  For me, it was every 4 months.

If hospital administrator actions were truly to improve healthcare for our patients, I would have no qualms.  But instead through abusive tactics and bullying, they interfere with physician decision-making, and ultimately increase administrator salaries, bankroll retirement portfolios, and yearly bonuses.

SB 642 is an important step to removing hospital administrators from practicing medicine without a license.  Their surreptitious plans taking over a non-profit hospital for their own personal benefit must be thwarted by this law.

Patients have entrusted physicians to be guardians of their health.  We are professionals that have taken a solemn oath to provide care in the best interest of the patient.  Therefore, SB 642 will serve Californians by putting medical decision-making back into the hands of patients and their doctors.

Thank you.


I have never testified before a legislative body, but this is where my keyboard has brought me.  There needs to be more voices fighting for patient care diminishing hospital administration power.  Doctors must be part of the balance providing better healthcare to citizens of our country, but we must hear you speak!  

Follow that mantra, “Never Give Up!”

Gene Uzawa Dorio, M.D.

[Editorial Note] For background on the managers' coup e'etat, managerialism and related issues, see this post.