Following the Money to the Hospital Executive Suites
Cash transfusion: The Lewiston Sun Journal did what good newspapers are supposed to do in its lengthy February 14 story by staff writer Lindsay Tice on big spending on salaries for staff and board members at Central Maine Medical Center. It dug up the facts, and put them in context.
The article exposed a series of questionable financial arrangements at CMMC, with implications for state government, taxpayers and patients. It showed that although the hospital was pleading poverty in 2006, it found the money to double its CEO’s total salary and benefits. Tice took that figure and compared it to those of top executives at other large health-care facilities in the state to provide perspective. She also revealed CMMC’s policy of paying its board members tens of thousands of dollars, a practice that’s rare in an industry where such duty is usually considered community service. And she explored in clear and concise fashion the internal dealings of the various intertwined entities that come under the hospital’s corporate structure, including an insurance company it runs in the Cayman Islands.
What makes this effort all the more impressive is the Lewiston paper conducted its investigation into this powerful local institution while aware that Steve Costello, a member of the family that owns the paper and the Sun Journal’s vice president of advertising and marketing, sat on one of the hospital’s boards (although not the one that got paid).
Kathie Leonard, president of Auburn Manufacturing Inc., appeared to be a key source for the piece. Leonard served as chairwoman of the paid board (collecting $34,000 for three years work) and is also a member of the newspaper’s board.
Both conflicts of interest were fully disclosed with the story.
Now, let’s hope Tice and the Sun Journal follow up to see what, if any, changes result from informing the public about how the hospital’s internal organs function. This type of exposé has great value, but the real power of journalism is in keeping the pressure on with solid daily reporting on reform efforts or lack thereof.
Story? What story? For all the quality work the Sun Journal staff did in putting together the hospital story, it wasn’t reflected on its Web site. The investigative piece wasn’t even online as of late Sunday morning, and didn’t show up until I e-mailed the paper’s Web staff asking where it was.
If this were a one-time occurrence, I’d let it go, but the Sun Journal’s Web site continues to be a hit-or-miss affair. Significant parts of the paper’s local content either don’t show up on it or are hidden in places I wouldn’t think to look.
Old money: One last note on the Lewiston paper – and its competition. Staff writer Rebekah Metzler did a reasonable job of analyzing the spending reports in the 2nd District congressional race in her February 11 article.
Trouble is, these reports had been filed nearly a month before and had been online for weeks.
What took her so long?
And what’s taking the other news outlets that cover the 2nd District even longer?
To date, I haven’t seen a word about any of this stuff in the Morning Sentinel (which covers a sizable chunk of the district) or any of the area’s weeklies. The Bangor Daily News finally ran Metzler’s story on February 16. A Google search of “2nd District Maine campaign spending” turned up more information on the 1990 race for Congress than it did on this year’s contest.
Metzler may have been a little late, but I’ll take that over never.
Power to public: According to North East Radio Watch, the Maine Public Broadcasting Network has applied to the Federal Communications Commission to roughly double the power of WMEA (90.1 FM) in Portland. Because of the physics of radio transmission, that change wouldn’t come close to doubling the station’s coverage area, but the application also includes the installation of a new directional antenna, which would provide a better signal in the Lewiston area and the mid-coast. There’s a trade-off, though. Public radio listeners southwest of Portland, mostly in New Hampshire, would find the station slightly more difficult to pick up.
Weights and mis-measures: From a story by staff writer David Hench on the dangerous drug being mixed with cocaine sold in Maine in the February 16 Portland Press Herald:
“Because cocaine is sold by weight, increasing the volume translates into more profits for those selling it.”
In much the same way that increasing the fat content of doughnuts improves the resolution on your high-definition TV.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.