Monthly Archives: February 2008

Dose of Reality for Peach Regional ER Patients

Management at Peach Regional Medical Center has made a wise choice to give a potentially bitter bill to some of the 1,500 or so people a month who flock to the emergency room.  Starting tomorrow (March 1) a 7 a.m., a new Medical Screening Process will go live.  A doctor will see every patient, but those whose condition doesn’t qualify as an emergency will be asked to pay a deposit if they still want treatment at the ER.  Those who don’t wish to pay will receive financial counseling and be given a list of area doctors and clinics for further treatment.  Those who do ante up will receive treatment, but might have a long wait, while staff treat people with more serious conditions.

The MSP will likely upset that population that’s grown used to using the ER as a free medical clinic — free, that is, for the patients; but it’s been said over and over in discussions of healthcare problems that the ER is the most expensive place to treat anything that isn’t a genuine emergency.  PRMC chief Nancy Peed noted today that a visit to a doctor or clinic for a routine illness might cost around $80, but that same visit could cost $300 – $600 at the ER.  It helps neither the patient, whose credit will eventually reflect that unpaid bill, nor the hospital, whose bottom line will eventually reflect that unpaid bill.

 Let’s also remember that the bill won’t really be unpaid.  Someone will pay eventually, either taxpayers or every other patient and insurer who does pay.

Public hospitals have been rolling over for too long against the tide of entitlement.  At an earlier meeting with county commissioners, Hospital Authority Chairman Tom Green said PRMC had long been reluctant to ask for money up front for political reasons.  There might be protests from advocates for the poor (and there are a lot of poor people and advocates for them in Peach County, especially Fort Valley).  These are the advocates who claim moving the hospital is itself discrimination.  Imagine the fun they’ll have with PRMC asking people to pay for medical care.  The nerve!

Let the protests come.  Public hospitals do have obligations to serve the public and the poor, but that doesn’t mean providing treatment on demand to anyone who walks in the door, regardless of the cost or the needs of other, sicker people.

PRMC is in a struggle for survival.  Improved financial performance will help get the planned new hospital built, which will allow better service for everyone.  With Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers putting the squeeze on PRMC and other hospitals, it’s time for the public to squeeze a little less, for everyone’s sake.

For complete coverage of this month’s hospital authority meeting, see the March 5, 2008 issue of The Leader-Tribune.

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Unanswered Questions from the Peach BOE Meeting of 2-26

Because of attorney client privilege and executive session, me may never know what drove BOE attorney Jerry Lumley away.  At this moment, it’s not clear whether he only left the meeting or quit altogether.  More when I know something.

 Inquring minds (should at least) want to know:

Why did it take four hours to negotiate new Superintendent Dr. Susan Clark’s contract?  The superintendent’s duties and responsibilities are well known.  Board policy spells them out.  Doesn’t it?

Given the very public disputes among board members, how much of those four hours was taken up with such conflicts?

Why is so much about the doings of this board of an allegedly public school system a mystery?

Advice to Dr. Clark: Carry snake venom antidote and wear a flak jacket on your back.

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The Media and Barack Obama

Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Jim Wooten today asked the pertinent question, “Does the media prefer Barack Obama?”   Hillary Clinton clearly thinks so,” he writes, and continues:

Well, could I just point out that, in the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time? And I don’t mind. You know, I’ll be happy to field them, but I do find it curious. And if anybody saw ‘Saturday Night Live,’ you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he’s comfortable and needs another pillow.” She was referring to a skit last weekend that had television journalists fawning over Obama.

“I just find it kind of curious,” Hillary continued, “that I keep getting the first question on all of these issues, but I’m happy to answer it. You know, I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning. I didn’t have a public position on it because I was part of the administration. But when I started running for the Senate, I have been a critic.”

The suggestion that the media caters to Obama was advanced earlier in the day by campaign supporters. Howard Wolfson, a top Clinton adviser, said that “the press has largely applauded” Obama “every time” his campaign launches pesonal attacks on Hillary. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell says the media has “relished” Hillary’s slide.

Wooten goes on to write that he keeps a TV going and gives it a look when something interesting pops up.  “Here lately, with the field down to two candidates, it appears far more balanced — that is, when I look up and the story is political, I’m as likely to see Hillary as Obama. ”  But that wasn’t the case earlier, when cable channels clearly preferred Obama, Wooten opines.

 He concludes by asking: “You report, you decide: Does the media prefer Obama?”

Well?  Media bias is hard to examine, since the examiner is inherently biased in the examining.  If you’re a Hillary supporter, a supporter of someone else, or simply skeptical of Obamamania, you might well assert that the media favors Obama.

But the perception of bias is common, maybe universal.  The most partisan supporters of the Palestinians are convinced the media are biased against their cause and let Israel get away with everything, while the equivalent on the Israel side are just as convinced  the bias runs the other way.  And they’re both criticizing the same coverage.

Given the above caveat, I do sense the media favor Obama.  From a journalistic standpoint, his personal story really is more interesting than those of the other candidates.  It’s a story to unjade us: The interracial marriage, the immigrant father, the son of the African immigrant who goes to Harvard, the relatives in Kenya following his every move.  The response to Obama, that “audacity of hope” euphoria, is genuine and reporters write about it, and thus inevitably fan it.

Still, my sense is that the media does favor Obama.  The media — by which, readers should understand, I mean mostly the political press — hasn’t liked Hillary from Day One, long before Obama appeared.

 It’s not just the-liberal-media-loves-the liberal, though.  The political press corps loves John McCain, at least since the Straight Talk Express days in 2000.  The media never liked Rudy Giuliani, g0ing back to his New York mayoral days, and he returned the favor.  Politically, Rudy is largely a bit further left than McCain.

Does the media’s playing favorites help the favored and hurt the disfavored?  It would be hard to support a “no” answer, but where’s the chicken and where’s the egg?  Do some public figures naturally rub reporters the right way and the wrong way (in a figurative sense)?

 In my case (I’m not a national political reporter, btw), I find it hard to warm up to Hillary and easy to warm up to Barack.  Full disclosure: I have a multiracial son, nieces and nephews.  I very much like John McCain on a personal level.  His personal story is also compelling.

But if the media’s bias is discernible, despite our constant pieties about “objectivity,” then aren’t we in trouble?  How much damage do we do to our credibility?  It’s too flip to say there’s not much damage left to be done; it’s immensely important to democracy that the press maintain its credibility and do its best to strive for objectivity.

During my brief stint as a college journalism professor, I tried to tell my students the reader shouldn’t be able to tell your political opinion or opinion of a person from your reporting.  I guess I didn’t teach that lesson — or any other lesson, I’m afraid — very well, but apparently neither did my colleagues.  Or is it the students who are the problem?

Back to Lesson One, anyone?

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