New Public Health Director for Louisville: Follow-up (or lack thereof).

On June 24, I sent a copy of the June 18  Blog entry below to Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fischer, and to Mr. William Altman, Chairman of Louisville’s Department of Public Health. I repeated my request to reconsider the employment structure of Dr. LaQuandra S. Nesbitt, the new Director of Public Health and Wellness. (Cover letter here.)  The letter contains the mission statements of the Louisville Board of Health emphasizing its independence.

I have not had a response, nor am I aware of any new information.  What do you know, and what do you think?  Add your two bits.

[Addendum Dec 14, 2011:  When I wrote the above letter to the Board of Health and the Mayor’s office, I somehow thought that the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness  reported to the Louisville Board of Health– imagine that!   While the details of accountability still elude me, it seems that the LMPHW Department is a branch of Louisville Government, reports to the Mayor, and is only “advised by the Board of Health. The Board of Health is “independent,” and is appointed by the Mayor.  Its Chairman was on the search committee for the new Director, Dr. Nesbitt.  If anyone can straighten me out about this, please do so.  The details of the organizational chart do not affect the substance of my letter nor my concerns.  I still think her dual employment it is a bad idea. The absence of her counsel in the current debate over the acquisition of University Hospital is appropriate given her conflict of interest, but missed.

Peter Hasselbacher, MD

New Director for Public Health in Louisville:

Who should she serve?

Compared to the tumultuous search for a new school system superintendent, the announcement of the appointment of a new Director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness seemed to come out of nowhere. Since the departure of the previous Director, Dr. Adewale Troutman, the announcement in the Courier Journal on June 14 was the first indication of progress of which I was aware. Did I miss something– like a public hearing? Was there any public input into the process? Perhaps the search became invisible in the shadow of the school superintendent search. Yet both searches are equally critical for our future. As our failing private health system continues to eject middle income Americans (employed or otherwise), a new form of systemic health disparity is growing rapidly. The widening income gap in America is causing a pernicious denial of access to affordable health care within a system that is tailored for the well-employed and the wealthy. In a health system where even the “haves have not,” I predict that our public health departments will become increasingly important. They will likely be incubators for whatever our future system of health care looks like. As a society, we are only as healthy as the sickest among us.

Dr. LaQuandra S. Nesbitt, MD, our new Director, looks like a great catch. She has impeccable credentials of training and experience. She most recently held a senior public health role in the cauldron of Washington, DC. The challenges she faced there provide relevant experience for our needs. I wish her well. I hope I can help.

As far as I know, Dr. Nesbitt’s successful candidacy was without controversy. Therefore, let me introduce some! One sentence in the C-Js reporting positively gave me the shivers. It was reported that half her salary of $180,000 and half her benefits will be paid by the University of Louisville. I think this is a bad idea: a very bad idea. No doubt the fiscally-strained city was glad to have someone else pick up part of the tab, but I think this is bad public policy. This is not simply the customary gratis faculty appointment that honors Dr. Nesbitt, allows her to teach, and otherwise participate in the academic life of the University. Hundreds of other physicians in Louisville have such privileges. The current arrangement makes her an employee of the University of Louisville. By placing her in a position of having two very different employers, she will start on day one with conflicts of interest. Continue reading “New Director for Public Health in Louisville:”

OPTROT: A big win for Optometrists and Legislators Alike!

A few weeks after their stunning legislative maneuver that fundamentally changes the practice of optometry in Kentucky, the Kentucky Optometric Association hosted a reception to thank our legislators. Such receptions are quite common and provide legislators food, drink, and company for what otherwise might be a lonely evening in Frankfort. They are fun. They also provide further opportunities for networking (a.k.a. lobbying). According to Frankfort’s rules, as long as all legislators are invited (even the 17 who voted against) no ethical problem exists. We doctors (and presumably optometrists) have long allowed drug companies and medical device manufacturers to shower us with meals, travel, and gifts. How can we object? If everybody does it, that makes it OK– yes? The optometrists pulled off a wildly successful legislative campaign and they deserve to celebrate. I do not hold it against them.

Not to be overlooked is the fact that our legislators had a big victory to celebrate as well. The optometrists won big, but our legislators won even bigger. The bar for the amount of money it will now take to reliably pass a piece of legislation has been raised. There is an old political joke, that the top three priorities of elected officials are all to get reelected. It would be a funnier joke if there was not so much truth in it. I was immersed in federal and state legislative processes for more than 15 years. I have spoken with or interviewed hundreds of lobbyists. I have hired lobbyists. I was one once! Money counts, and that is why the job of getting reelected in Kentucky has just gotten a little easier. Yes, the optometrists did other things right, like sustained coordinated personal contacts with their representatives. However, in electoral politics, money trumps most everything, including good policy. A new blueprint has been drafted. It will be interesting to watch the cash flows next legislative season.

Peter Hasselbacher, MD

OPTROT? Business as usual? Or both?

Passage of Kentucky’s Optometry Bill into Law.

Gov. Beshear signed Kentucky’s optometry practice expansion bill into law yesterday. Thus ends the remarkable passage of Senate Bill 110 that in one fell swoop transforms the practice of optometry in Kentucky from correcting vision with lenses, to the practice of treating eye disease with medicine and surgery.

Much can be said about many aspects of this episode.  For example, the erosion of the monopoly of MDs to practice medicine. However the special privilege of caring for the sick has been drifting away from us physicians for some time. Some of these sharings are not all bad: you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to manage an immunization schedule or treat a sore throat. I predict that we physicians will continue to share the responsibility of treating illness and that the pace of the sharing will increase dramatically with the inclusion of the concepts of wellness and disease prevention into our financial structure of treating illness. (There is no limit to the demand for wellness, disease prevention, or screening by the public; nor limit to the willingness of healthcare workers of all levels of competence to provide.) This optometry bill was not the only scope of practice legislation before this General Assembly. Why have not the others passed as well? Is this optometry bill a crack in the dam? Did we physicians do something to bring this on ourselves?

Changes in scope of practice are not occurring in isolation from other major shifts in the landscape of healthcare delivery. I am informed that the considerable majority of primary care physicians in Louisville are now direct employees of hospitals. A large and increasing fraction of specialists are also hospital employees. I predict this trend will do more to change the practice of medicine than the sharing of professional responsibilities with optometrists, or nurses for that matter. What is happening is that systems of medical care are largely replacing Mom and Doc operations. That’s probably for the better. Even in a given specialty, there is too much to know, too much to do, and too much efficiency required. What is most important is that the primary obligation of the physician to their patient retains its primacy. That is what we are most at risk to losing. That may not be for the good. Continue reading “OPTROT? Business as usual? Or both?”