“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Taking the AGN Head On

An Independent Attitude, Feb. 22, 2007
and health care issues have been much in Texas news lately. First, it was the Feb. 2 announcement that mandated sixth-grade girls must have the human papillomavirus vaccine. Then, 10 days later, the Amarillo Globe-News ran an op-ed piece by Carolyn Ballew about emergency room care in Amarillo.

Unfortunately, Ballew’s’ stinging essay painted the entire system with a broad brush without naming the hospital. And, she told me, no one at the Globe-News asked her in what emergency room her unfortunate incident occurred: Baptist St. Anthony’s Hospital.

In this issue I chose to run a column by Frank Lopez, the chief executive at Northwest Texas Healthcare System, because Ballew’s piece might give the community the impression it can’t get good emergency care and because the community deserved his take on the situation.

Ballew’s piece also opened the door to address some facts about newspapering in Amarillo for our readers and the community.

A few weeks ago, a colleague told me he perceived The Amarillo Independent was pro-Northwest and anti-BSA. I realized he was right.

And, because transparency makes sense, I thought I should be clear about some of the reasons.

As this is written, the Globe- News has chosen not to provide its readers with Lopez’s response, even after telling Lopez it would do so.

Instead, Les Simpson, the Globe- News publisher, wrote a column in the Sunday, Feb. 18, issue essentially retracting Ballew’s piece and spinning the idea that his large daily provides fair and trustworthy journalism.

Simpson also wrote that the Globe-News failed to substantiate Ballew’s assertions and the paper doesn’t get into the middle of private disputes. So, even if “private disputes” shine light on public policy, consumer protection or how local nonprofit agencies that get donations from the public are run, it’s not really news.

One reason I started the Indy was because I didn’t think the community was getting fair and trustworthy — or fair and balanced — news.

I still don’t.

I was at the Globe-News as the health and medicine reporter. I have a master’s in hospital administration, so I know something about the health care system. I worked on stories that would have shown BSA isn’t the kind, Christian hospital it wants the community to think it is.

One of those stories raised questions about BSA’s level of charity care. That was the story the Indy reported in the Oct. 5, 2006, issue. I had that story at the Globe- News, but Simpson never could find time to meet with me to discuss it.

I concluded he was ducking the issue and had I stayed at the Globe News until the 22nd century, that story wouldn’t have seen the light of day.

The editors also killed one other story and twisted another so badly that my sense of fairness and ethics made me realize I ultimately could no longer work there.

It is well known that doctors, and others, fear BSA’s retribution against anyone who speaks against it. So it took courage for the two doctors who contacted me to go on the record that BSA had ordered a surgical stapling system and another brand of suturing material these physicians believed were inferior to more expensive name-brand products.

The editors killed the story because we couldn’t find some “standard” for staples and sutures. How convenient — because there is none.

The other story had to do with the orthopedic surgeons’ “boycott” of BSA’s emergency room. I did some of the research but Marty Primeau, who is a fine reporter, wrote the story.

The article ignored about 600 words of notes I provided. Those notes explained it’s not good patient care to demand an orthopedic surgeon, who has specialized in hand surgery for the past 15 years, come in on a night call to care for a broken leg; instead many times the patient can be stabilized and an appropriate specialist could come in later. The published article was so slanted that BSA may as well have written Primeau’s story for her.

The Globe-News didn’t hesitate when I had a story about strife at Northwest’s ambulance service, including layoffs. And it quite gratuitously added to a wire story on a hospital in New Orleans that had problems during Hurricane Katrina by inserting that the hospital was owned by Northwest’s parent company, Universal Health Services, Inc., thus linking the problems to Northwest.

It was a subtle and effective smear of UHS and Northwest.

The Globe-News is biased for BSA and Simpson’s disingenuous and inaccurate portrayal of his newspaper’s reporting doesn’t change that fact nor does it give credence that his newspaper is hard on anyone.

Spinning the situation instead of giving the community Lopez’s rebuttal makes the Globe-News’ bias as obvious as the long nose on Pinocchio’s face.

There are things going on in this medical community that would never see the light of day if Amarillo were a one-newspaper town. We’re working on some of those stories.

Meanwhile, it turned out, Ballew told me, that, months later, she still hasn’t heard from a BSA representative about her problems — despite asking for help.

I agree with Lopez’s assessment that problems can occur in any ER. But the public should know that in a tough situation it is well known that outcomes are better at a hospital with full-time board-certified emergency physicians and residency programs. Northwest has those. BSA has no such qualified doctors in its ER on a comparable schedule and only one residency program.

The point of this editorial is also to emphasize that if Amarilloans want a fully balanced picture, they will have to read both newspapers. If they want, for example, to read only about Republican candidates and what they say, they should stick with the Augusta, Ga.-owned Globe-News. If they want a broader and progressive view with real reporting, they’ll find that in the Amarillo-owned Indy.

There. Full disclosure.

Let the games begin.