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Bay Area Media Ignore UCSF-Brown & Toland Split
Despite the fact that 160,000 HMO patients who receive care at UCSF will be affected, only the San Francisco Business Times has covered the acrimonious divorce of the hospital’s physicians from Brown & Toland Medical Group. In the case of KPIX-TV, CBS 5, there is an interesting connection between the station’s health reporter and the spokesman for a rival hospital that might benefit from the change.
Click on this link. You’re looking at the only news story about a seismic shift in San Francisco’s health care landscape. Effective January 1, UCSF physicians – some of the best and brightest in the world – will leave Brown & Toland Medical Group and become part of Hill Physicians. HMO patients who have UCSF primary care physicians will have to switch to Hill Physicians by the end of this year. Those who have Brown & Toland primary physicians but see a UCSF specialist will have an extra year to decide whether to switch to Hill before they lose unrestricted access to their UCSF doctor. PPO and Kaiser patients are not affected.
When I originally posted a story about this development on Indymedia, I was attacked by Kevin McCormack, spokesman for California Pacific Medical Center, and Brown & Toland CEO Gloria Austin. They insist that patients who stick with Brown & Toland won’t lose access to UCSF specialists.
“What is so inaccurate is that Mr. White assumes that his wife and other patients will not have access to UCSF,” Austin wrote. “That is simply untrue.”
“Brown & Toland is currently in negotiation with UCSF for an agreement. Regardless of whether a formal agreement is reached or not, Brown & Toland will ensure that patients have access to UCSF when it is in the patient's best interest.”
The key phrase is, “when it is in the patient’s best interest.” As it stands, a Brown & Toland primary physician can refer patients directly to a UCSF specialist. After January 1, physicians will have to seek approval from Brown & Toland before referring patients to UCSF. If there’s a specialist within the Brown & Toland network, it is unlikely that the UCSF referral will be approved. Many Brown & Toland specialists practice at California Pacific Medical Center. McCormack insists that a physician I spoke with who claimed that CPMC urged Brown & Toland to push UCSF physicians out is wrong.
Not only will this change adversely affect patients, but it could deprive UCSF of much-needed revenue at a time when the state is strapped for cash. UCSF physicians also serve San Francisco General Hospital and the Veterans Administration Medical Center. UCSF is also a key player in California’s bid to become a worldwide biotechnology research center. You’d think the media would be all over this story, but they are avoiding it like the plague.
On Friday, September 11, I e-mailed KPIX-TV, CBS 5, about this story. A couple of hours later, I was surprised to hear from a producer named Sandy Lee. She seemed interested enough in the story and arranged to send a photographer out to interview my wife, Sherri, the following Monday. Sherri, an MS patient, has a Brown & Toland primary care physician and neurologist, but also sees Dr. Doug Goodin, director of the UCSF Multiple Sclerosis Center. The photographer, a nice fellow named Paul, arrived and shot video while another producer named Molly interviewed Sherri. Paul also took some shots of a letter Sherri received from UCSF explaining the split with Brown & Toland. He said he would have Molly call when Dr. Kim Mulvihill, the station’s health reporter, aired the story.
We’re still waiting. It’s not that we give a damn about being on television. We do care that patients and taxpayers get the story, however.
Now, maybe it takes a week to produce a story like this one. Anything is possible, but the health stories on CBS 5 the past couple of nights have been national ones that someone made a half-hearted attempt to localize. I just saw a UCSF commercial concerning the Hill Physicians migration right, smack in the middle of CBS 5’s 6 o’clock newscast! Either news director Dan Rosenheim is running a country club instead of a newsroom or the UCSF story has been killed.
McCormack, who doesn’t like me because I accused him of dissembling a few months back, spent many years as health producer at KRON-TV, according to his LinkedIn profile. Guess who used to be the health reporter at KRON while Kevin was there. That’s right – Dr. Kim Mulvihill. Things that make ya go hmm!
Mulvihill, an obstetrician and gynecologist, lists a Park City, Utah, address with the Medical Board of California. Sutter Health, parent company of CPMC, has longstanding ties to Utah and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). In fact, one of its board members lives in Utah and two contributed to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. More things that make ya go hmm!
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, “29% of Americans say that news organizations generally get the facts straight, while 63% say that news stories are often inaccurate.” I submit that people of every political, religious, and ethnic persuasion suspect that they’re not getting the full story from the mainstream media. That’s definitely the case here. It should surprise no one that journalists are losing their jobs on a daily basis as Americans increasingly turn to the Internet to get the news they’re not getting from traditional media.
It is truly pathetic that no journalists in the Bay Area but the ones at the Business Times have the intestinal fortitude or brains to do this story. It has to be one or the other. Certainly this is a story that needs to be told. The fact that nobody’s telling it tells me that either corruption or incompetence is to blame.