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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Metro Acknowledges PR Problems, Wants to Remind You They Do Good Stuff Too

Posted By on Thu, Aug 11, 2011 at 4:30 PM

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Metro CEO Mark Moran stopped by the PD to talk to editors and reporters on Wednesday, as noted in the PD's editorial on Metro's employee exit-strategies here.

It happens every once in awhile; a subject calls up or stops over to the paper's headquarters after they've been the target a series of articles that don't shine the most favorable light. It usually entails a visit with Top Men and the reporters to let, say, Chief McGrath, air his side of the story, pleading "Come on, man, why you gotta be like that?"

Sometimes that leads to laughter and a redoubling of efforts, sometimes it leads to nicer subsequent filings, like this, which also appeared in the paper this morning:

"Cleveland MetroHealth chief executive fears taxpayers might overlook hospital's community role."

For the last few months, the paper has been hammering the hospital (which receives taxpayer subsidies — $36 million this year) for a variety of faults: consultant hirings, executive pay, management, the fact that TVs in the emergency room are usually tuned to TBS, and the lack of Milky Ways in vending machines.

Today's piece gives Metro CEO Mark Moran a chance to respond and fire off some reasons why the hospital is on the right track, while at the same time acknowledging that Metro maybe sorta perhaps possibly didn't make super-wise PR moves. With the Metro tax up for renewal by voters next year, Moran's basically saying: We screwed up, we're trying to fix it, don't punish us.

It's hard to tell whether voters would. The seemingly exorbitant consulting contracts and severance packages can leave Joe Public less than happy. He's scrounging around in his car for some loose change to buy something off McDonald's value menu, and former Metro executives — ones who have left under a variety of circumstances, and as Moran admits, probably didn't work after they were doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to leave — collect fat paychecks.

Moran's reminder, and what was likely his plea to folks at the PD, is that all the bad press might have the unintended consequence of convincing voters to not renew Metro's tax subsidy, a not insignificant sum that is key to Metro's continued service of the poor and uninsured.

"The idea that we are mistreating county assets or overpaying for something is going to be something that people look at the [health and human services] levy and say 'Why would I pay for that?' " Moran told the paper.

Thus today's not untrue message.

In the past three years, 42 employees left the health system with consulting contracts worth a potential cost of $4 million. Moran said Wednesday that the churn in management was necessary for the system to overcome its financial challenges.

Awarding what Moran called "employee transition contracts" lowered the risk of potential litigation and provided access to the institutional knowledge of the departing employees. He acknowledged, however, that most of the employees "probably didn't" do any work.

Moran said the amount MetroHealth pays its executives, including severance, is necessary to compete against the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals for qualified professionals.

MetroHealth, the county's safety-net hospital, has faced a myriad of economic hurdles and is still undergoing what its leaders call a turnaround: The system reported a $2.2 million loss on net income in 2007. It continued to bleed money in early 2008, losing $11 million in the first quarter, according to long-time trustee and now MetroHealth Board Chair Ron Fountain.

"If it had continued at that level it would have been devastating, and it was something that could not be abided," Fountain said.

Fun relevant facts to remember: Metro spent $103 million on charity care in 2010, with visits from uninsured patients jumping 25% from 2008 to 2010.

The PD may have a magnifying glass on Metro these days, but for years prior, Metro had operated without any scrutiny. Any bad PR stemming from its procedures and operations is born from itself and its executives alone, and with taxpayers forking over as much as they do to the hospital, they deserve more than a reminder that Metro's charity care is both good and essential.

As the editorial notes: "MetroHealth cannot justify its a-wink-and-a-nod consulting arrangements. There's got to be a better, more transparent way. Moran needs to devise it and explain it to the public promptly. "

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