Thursday, January 11, 2007

UI President Search Held Hostage Day 56 - Jan. 11

Jan. 11, 9:45 a.m.

(Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here.)

We start today (Jan. 11), as the blog did yesterday, with the Press-Citizen's editorial page. The paper offers a well-written, respectful and balanced suggestion that soon-to-be-Governor Culver consider as one of his first acts (rather than waiting until March) the appointment of the replacement for Regent Tom Bedell, who resigned over the presidential search furor. (The editorial is linked, below.)

We then explore an "interesting" (Regent Gartner's word) op ed in this moning's Register by Wellmark's chief (regarding Des Moines' hospitals) for what it may suggest about Wellmark's interest in Iowa City's UIHC, also linked, below.

Regent Tom Bedell's Replacement -- and Gartner's

First off, thanks to the Press-Citizen for the leadership offered in its editorial positions throughout this controversy in general, and for this idea in particular (and its timing, since Culver's having inaugural events in Iowa City today).

I'd just like to tweak it a bit.

The continued role of Regent Gartner as Board President, and a Board of members seemingly incapable of exerting their responsibilities to control him, remain a significant drag on the State of Iowa, its Regents institutions, and specifically the soon-to-be launched "Search II" for a UI president.

It is long past time that the Board members, and the Governor, think about whom they want as the next Board President. This may be someone who is already on the Board. It may be someone who could be appointed now to fill Bedell's seat.

Regent Gartner has, so far, held firm: he does not intend to resign his position on the Board (which runs until 2011), or as Board President (which expires in early 2008).

There are two possibilities.
(1) With the coming four (potentially new, rather than reappointed) Regents, and the possibility of spine implants changing the attitudes of those who remain, Gartner may decide to change his mind, and leave one or both positions.
(2) If he does not, it is possible that a new de facto "president-elect" could work with a majority of the Regents to effectively control and out vote Gartner and otherwise run the Board in a responsible manner, notwithstanding Gartner's retention of the title of president for the remainder of this year.

If this approach is attractive to anyone in a position to do anything with it, the following might be steps to consider.
(a) Poll the current Regents. Among those who would like new leadership, whom -- either from among their number, or as potential new appointees -- do they think should be considered as possible persons to provide a de facto replacement for Gartner's role? They don't get to pick, but it's important they be consulted and accorded the opportunity to nominate.
(b) Encourage Governor Culver, his staff, and anyone else involved in this process to consider, not just Bedell's replacement, but the entire package right now: What do you want Governor Culver's Board of Regents to look like come next April: the entire membership, and from among that membership, the president -- whether one holding the title, or one who simply functions de facto in that role. Select all of those four individuals now -- perhaps even revealing their names now, or not (there being reasonable arguments for doing either).

If this is going to happen ultimately anyway, why not grant ourselves the significant boost to the search process that would result from doing it as soon as possible?

Wellmark, West Des Moines, UIHC and the Regents

I find it "interesting" (as Gartner once said of faculty salaries and teaching loads) that Wellmark's CEO reflects such a sense of entitlement to control hospital decisions in West Des Moines. (See, Cliff Gold, "Wellmark Supports One Right-Sized WDM Hospital," linked below.)

Now, before I say more, let me acknowledge that (a) I have no expertise or inside information to share with you on this matter, (b) from my position of relative ignorance, I must say the op ed persuaded me. I like the way the guy thinks, considers data relevant to decision making, analyzes problems, and the proposals he offers. (c) Insurance companies are an oft-overlooked resource for reformers and citizen activists. Who cares why auto insurance companies get involved in seat belt and air bag regulation, or requirements that the bumpers on cars be able to withstand a collision at something over two-to-five miles per hour? So they want to save on outlays and thereby increase profits. OK; but they're also saving lives, reducing injuries and unnecessary costs and inconvenience for their policy holders. Some similar good could come from health insurance companies (although I don't know if it does or not).

But read the op ed. You'll see what I mean. He says things like:

"Wellmark supports the closure of the two hospitals, the move of Broadlawns and the construction of additional hospital capacity, if properly sized, in West Des Moines. And we have so advised both hospital systems.

"We have also proposed a very logical solution to who would control the coveted western suburban hospital market. We suggested the two hospital systems resurrect their own 2002 idea to build a jointly owned hospital in West Des Moines. . . .

"To its credit, Iowa Health has indicated its agreement to proceed on the course we outlined."

Now much as I admire this guy's mastery of rational analysis and data, he ain't no ordinary blogger or op ed writer. He's group vice president of Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and president of Wellmark Health Plan of Iowa.

Apparently that means he has the power, connections or leverage of some kind to warrant his spending time thinking about such matters and dictating how they should be resolved. Why is that?

If I were sitting on a hospital board I think I'd be thinking, "Who died and made you the boss of me?"

If Wellmark has this power and sense of entitlement in Des Moines, does it have similar power and sense of entitlement with regard to the UI and UIHC?

Is there anything in this story out of Des Moines that might be of interest or relevance to the suggestions that Wellmark representatives have been appointed to the Board of Regents by the Governor? Or that Regent Gartner stopped the search process in its tracks because he couldn't get his (and Wellmark's?) favorite candidate as UI president (a woman who sat on the board of a multi-billion-dollar health insurance company elsewhere)? Or that a factor in UI President Skorton's departure was his unwillingness to go along with Wellmark's wishes? Or that Vilsack's alternative of a "VP for health sciences" was put in place earlier this week -- before a new UI president was appointed and could influence the decison? Or that the UIHC is providing office space, secretarial and other support to a Wellmark board member the Attorney General has found has not been "assigned a function or duty by University Hospitals or the president of the university" and is not, in fact, "fulfilling any official function"?

Nah, these are probably all just coincidence. Still, "I find it interesting."

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story, these blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006. For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to will take you to the latest. Each contains links to the full text of virtually all known media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006. My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006. And the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References".]

# # #

Media Stories and Commentary

Cliff Gold, "Wellmark Supports One Right-Sized WDM Hospital," Des Moines Register, January 11, 2007

Editorial, "Culver Should Appooint a New Regent Soon,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 11, 2007

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The cat's out of the bag at the Press-Citizen. It really shouldn't surprise anyone that the "tip" to the P-C that spurred the open records request was actually a set of documents.

Problem: How to authenticate the documents? After all, they could be forgeries.

Solution 1: Ask for them under the open records law. Nope.

Solution 2: Knowing that Colloton has a secretary paid by state, ask for her work. Nope.

Solution 3: Ask Colloton if he wrote them. Nope, he's not answering the phone.

Stymied, right?

Maybe not. Gartner has unwittingly handed the P-C solution 4, and it could work.

There's a newsworthy development today, right? Gartner has asked for an investigation of a computer breach at the UI Hospital. Downer confirms, and Mills almost confirms, that the breach involves the disclosure of Colloton's correspondence.

The P-C, of course, has begun to cover this story and they should follow up vigorously. They know that they received documents that purported to come from Colloton. Whether the documents are authentic or not, they certainly are relevant to the breach that Gartner wants investigated. The documents should be reported on (and , in fact, published in full) in order to shed light on the story of the breach. After all, Gartner has raised the fear that perhaps patient or financial information was disclosed in the breach. If that's not the case, publishing the documents would be reassuring.

Maybe Morelli is pounding his keyboard as I write.