Thursday, April 29, 2010

Superintendent Murley's Calm Seas, Smooth Sailing

April 29, 2010, 7:00 a.m.
[May 2 Addendum on UIHC "patient satisfaction," at bottom of entry.]

[This is the eleventh in what is, as of this morning, an eleven-part series on the Iowa City schools' selection of a new superintendent: "School Boundaries: There Are Better Ways," April 16, 2010 (with links to 23 prior, related blog entries and other writing); "How to Pick a School Superintendent; And My Questions for Candidates," April 17, 2010; "Bringing Home the Bacon and Bezek," April 20, 2010, "ICCSD's Triple Play: From Bezek to Murley to Meeks; Bezek Can Talk the Talk -- On Four Hours' Sleep," April 21, 2010; "Hurlyburly Over Murley," April 22, 2010; "IC Board Peeks at Meeks; Brad Meeks Rounds Out Three Finalists," April 23, 2010; "Finalists Responses? Decision Sunday? Finalists Offered Last Word," April 24, 2010; "IC Supers' Email: Bezek Responds, Murley & Meeks Don't; Constituent Relations Important -- But No Deal Breaker," April 25, 2010; "Where There's No Smoke There's No Fire; How Many School Board Members Does It Take to Screw Up a Superintendent Selection?" April 26, 2010; "School Boards, Superintendents, Contracts & Candor; The End of the Beginning But 'What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?'" April 28, 2010.] (Photo credit: The Gazette.)

The Morning After the Night Before
and "Compared to What?" ICCSD vs. UIHC

(Brought to you by*)

Following the confusion Tuesday night regarding what the Board knew and did, and when they knew and did it (see "School Boards, Superintendents, Contracts & Candor; The End of the Beginning But 'What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?'" April 28, 2010), by the following morning the Gazette's Gregg Hennigan was talking to ICCSD President Patti Fields, the Board members were saying how enthusiastic they were about Steve Murley and why, and Murley was continuing to say the right things with skill.

You don't pull up your tomato plants two days after you plant them to see how the roots are doing, and you don't judge a new superintendent two days after the Board says he's hired. But, as the English channel swimmer told the inquiring reporter right after she dived in, "So far so good."

Here are this morning's reports on who said what yesterday: Rob Daniel, "Board impressed by Murley's enthusiasm; Superintendent pick stood out, members say," Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 29, 2010, p. A1; Gregg Hennigan, "Plenty of Issues to Greet New Superintendent in I.C.," The Gazette, April 29, 2010, p. A3; Keith Uhlig, "Departing Superintendent Won't Receive Severance or Bonus Pay," Wausau Daily Herald, April 29, 2010.

"What We've Got Here is a Failure to Communicate"

As our sensory inputs get filtered through the electro-chemical soup that is our brain, and come out as human language, it is indeed a miracle that there is as much understanding among us as occasionally occurs. (See, Wendell Johnson, "The Communication Process and General Semantic Principles.")

And so it was the evening of April 25 after the School Board discussed the three finalists in closed session, and President Patti Fields responded to reporters' questions. See "School Boards, Superintendents, Contracts & Candor; The End of the Beginning But 'What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?'" April 28, 2010.

I am about as certain as I can be that there was no malevolence on either side. Patti, aware of what she could, and could not, tell the media tried to relay something without giving away what was apparently the fact at that time: by the end of its meeting that evening the Board had, for all practical purposes, come to a unanimous agreement to hire Murley. All that was left were the contract details.

What she said (based on the newspapers' reports, and with some approximation by me), was seemingly technically accurate. That is, until contract terms have been agreed to the Board has not picked its superintendent. So to say Sunday evening that the Board hadn't reached a decision, that no one had been eliminated, that it might hold another closed session, and that she hoped there would be a decision to announce in the next few days, was from her perspective literally accurate and the equivalent of saying, "We've unanimously chosen the one we want, but we won't be announcing anything until the contract is agreed to."

However, the professional journalists from the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Gazette, Wausau Daily Herald -- and the amateur blogger who is myself -- were certainly reasonable, from their perspective, and within the context of what they were asking, to interpret what she said differently.

When they are asking whether the Board has made a choice, it is not unreasonable for them to interpret what they are told as a reply to that question. And "no decision," "no one has been eliminated," "we may have another closed meeting," and "we hope to have a decision in the next few days," in normal, day-to-day colloquial speech can most reasonably be interpreted to mean, "No, we have not yet been able to settle on whom we want."

And in this context, the exchange between Hennigan and Fields set forth yesterday in "School Boards, Superintendents, Contracts & Candor; The End of the Beginning But 'What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?'" April 28, 2010, regarding the distinction between "may" and "expect to" hold another closed session is kind of beside the point. Any reference to a future meeting, regardless of what words preceded it, in the context of the questions asked and the responses provided, further supports the reasonable inference that no decision had been made.

In retrospect, as suggested in that blog entry, perhaps Patti should have stuck with, "as they said at the outset, 'We have nothing to announce this evening. Once a finalist has been selected and a contract agreed upon and signed, we will let you know.'" That would have been far better than either (a) refusing to talk to the media at all, or providing them only a "No comment," or (b) using language that risked the misunderstanding that ultimately resulted, through no real fault on the part of the reporters it seems to me.

On the other hand, the reporters might have done more. Presumably they (and I) knew the process: Board members settle on a first choice and then try to work out the contract; meanwhile they announce nothing to any of the finalists, media or public (in case they end up needing to go back to one of those rejected); once the contract details are settled on the announcement is made. With that understanding, and years of experience trying to get a straight answer out of institutional leaders, they (we) might have framed some more penetrating questions than "have you made a decision?"

We still don't know exactly what happened Sunday evening, nor what happened between then and Tuesday night's meeting. But unless something sufficiently dramatic about either comes to my attention in the next few days, it's my intention that this comment is the last you'll see in this blog on the subject/s.

Compared to what?

Much in life must be addressed as Henny Youngman responded to the man who asked him, "How's your wife?" to which he replied, "Compared to what?"

Well, compared to the UIHC, the ICCSD's public/media relations rank right up there with the slickest and most professional New York, Los Angeles, or Washington public relations firms.

You don't know the story?

It turns out the hospital just found out that it somehow overlooked billing patients for $11 million worth of services. I never had that problem with them. My problem was getting billed twice for the same service. (Although I'm quite willing to grant that it was in all likelihood the result of the same kind of incompetence and lack of management oversight, not dishonest, knowing double-billing.) But wouldn't you think you'd discover a shortage before it reached $11 million? I would; I enter every receipt, every check, every weekend. If I'm off by a nickel I have to try to remember when and where I put it into a parking meter. Don't they do anything like that?

What makes it worse, it was an audit by the Regents that discovered the shortfall, not the UIHC's audit, or management oversight. (Photo credit: Opoien, Iowa State Daily, February 4, 2010 meeting.)

B.A. Morelli, "Audit finds $11M UIHC billing error; Regents also approve a 6% rate increase at meeting," Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 29, 2010, p. A1; and the DI's two, page one, above-the-fold stories this morning, side by side: Emily Busse, "UIHC Missing $11 Million," The Daily Iowan, April 29, 2010, p. A1, and Nora Heaton, "UIHC To Raise Its Rates," The Daily Iowan, April 29, 2010, p. A1.

But here's the kicker: If you have any public relations sense at all, you don't announce that you've lost $11 million the same day you announce a 6% increase in your rate card, a $73 million new outpatient clinic in Coralville, . . .

. . . all while making a herculean effort to explain why "The problems were not because of a new $60 million hospital computer system called Epic" -- a computer system that has been widely criticized for a variety of reasons. (Video credit: benhillmedia; full disclosure: actors include son, Jason Grubbe (Actors Equity), Jim Van Valen, and Martin Andrews.)

Why, that would be like announcing you're no longer going to let patients park for free while they wait hours beyond their appointment time, at about the same time you announce the first question you're going to put to patients when they check in will be, "Hey, would you like to make a 'voluntary' contribution? How much?"

Oh, they did that, too? And they were all going to go to Disney World in Orlando to find out how to improve patient satisfaction?

Oh, well, never mind.

So we do need to put the Board's media relations this week into some kind of perspective. Compared to the UIHC the School Board is spectacular.


Patient Satisfaction

Here is some dramatic testimony regarding patient frustration with UIHC, and a Press-Citizen column on the subject.

I have written at some length before about "patient satisfaction" at the UIHC, e.g., Nicholas Johnson, "Mickey Mouse Patient Satisfaction; UIHC's Troubles: Is Orlando the Answer?" November 8, 2009.

The serious-while-lighthearted column is by former City Council member Bob Elliott, "Cheaper customer service training," Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 30, 2010.

But the most serious commentary about UIHC patient satisfaction is found in a comment entered online about Bob Elliott's column by one of the hospital's frustrated, unsuccessful-want-to-be patients:


I read your blog and I couldn't agree more on the problems at UIHC. Right now I'm in the process of trying to find another place to go for medical care. The last couple of times I tried to make an appointment, I was stuck on hold for an hour. The first time I did get through and was told that the next appointment time was six weeks from then. I had an infection in my ear lobe that was oozing pus, swollen lymph node in my neck, low grade fever. The second time I gave up. My right foot is swollen, painful, possible hairline fracture. My left hip hurts so much (probable result of limping) it keeps me awake nights. This has been the case for five months.
My insurance was through IowaCare which meant I had to go to UIHC or IowaCare wouldn't pay for it. I dropped coverage because I was paying for care I could not access. Now I have no insurance and nowhere to go and no option except to wait for Medicare to kick in.
This is beyond a customer service problem. This is systemic.
5/2/2010 6:25:17 AM


* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself.
-- Nicholas Johnson
# # #


Anonymous said...

Very well stated about UIHC. The number of blunders this multi-million dollar overpaid UIHC administration is making is increasing at an alarming rate. Unbelievable and scary what is happening. They keep hiring more and more C*O's and raising their salaries yet they are clearly incompetent. I am seriously concerned about the direction UIHC is headed. One other blotch you could have added was the screwup requiring everyone to get flu vaccines. I support vaccination but the way they did it and then had to about face was, again, unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

The real story is how loathed EPIC is at UIHC... and how it has undermined patient care ... has anyone died as a result of EPIC yet? unable to order blood as patients bleed out on the table...

Nick said...

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