From retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez. This commentary was first published in the Connecticut Post.
Hartford HealthCare Corp. would like Bridgeport’s residents and taxpayers to believe it is a public spirited health care provider dedicated to patient care and community enhancement.
In its Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service on Aug. 14, 2020, it describes itself as “an integrated health care delivery system” that includes a multitude of entities, such as hospitals, physicians groups, in-home care services and many others. Its purpose is to “improve the quality and accessibility of health care, create efficiency in internal operations and provide patients with the most technically advanced, compassionate and coordinated care.”
Brian Lockhart’s Feb. 23 article in the Connecticut Post describing HHCC’s purchase of naming rights to the new Harbor Yard amphitheater leaves no doubt the conglomerate is a business dedicated to the bottom line–nothing more, nothing less.
The ballyhoo and hype surrounding the naming rights press conference which featured city officials, the tenant/developer Howard Saffan and HHCC’s $2 million-a-year spokesman, director, president and CEO Jeffrey Flaks raised many unanswered questions. It costs a lot of money to purchase naming rights to an amphitheater adjacent to I-95 from which the HHCC designation will be visible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
How much? Nobody has said.
We do know that on Oct. 25, 2017, at a special meeting of the contracts committee of the City Council, the Amphitheater Development and Operating Agreement between the city of Bridgeport and the Harbor Yard Amphitheater, LLC was reviewed, discussed and approved. The item was placed on the consent calendar of the City Council agenda at its Nov. 6, 2017, meeting. The next day, Nov. 7, was the municipal election to elect new members to the City Council.
While the matter of naming rights was not discussed by the members of the contracts committee, the agreement included language stating that the developer reserves the right to “enter into contracts for, or otherwise provide for: the licensing of premium seating; the sale or license of advertising; the granting of naming rights.”
On its way to its approval on the Nov. 6, 2017, City Council consent calendar, the agreement was changed. According to the minutes, at the start of the meeting, the members of the City Council were advised by its then president, Tom McCarthy, that an executive session would be needed to discuss the amphitheater.
When the full council emerged from its one-hour executive session, City Council member Scott Burns moved to enter a substitute for the amphitheater agreement originally discussed in the contracts committee meeting. Without detailing the additional changes to the contract, Burns’ motion to amend asked that the approval also include “the items discussed in executive session.”
The new document, entitled “Facility Development and Operating Agreement Version 6,” replaced all language referring to an amphitheater with the word, “facility.”
Naming rights remained an exclusive right of the developer. However, the agreement was amended to require the city to provide written approval of the name selected by the developer.
It is certainly reasonable to ask why the Bridgeport City Council, Bridgeport’s Office of Planning and Economic Development and Mayor Ganim and his city attorneys did not insist on receiving a portion of the naming rights monies.
But that is a discussion for another day.
What is curiouser and curiouser is why a health care organization, in the middle of a pandemic, entered into such a deal.
It is a fact that health care is a business and, as such, its bottom line is to make money. It now functions as an industry engaged in practices designed to enhance its key values: productivity and efficiency.
Hartford HealthCare’s business model is patterned after the model formulated and perfected during the Industrial Revolution.
I have had occasion to read the boilerplate contracts which HHCC requires its physicians to sign as a condition of employment. Board certified doctors are designated “employees” in these agreements and their working arrangements and conditions attest to that status.
HHCC has replaced the traditional medical office to which we became accustomed with mini-medical factories in which physicians/employees are compensated based upon a piecework model and bonuses are based on productivity. There is little to distinguish this model from that employed by General Electric or General Motors, (or, for those who may remember, Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory assembly line).
The role of business practices in health care can also be seen in the education degrees that health care leaders such as Flaks have earned. In his case, he holds a master’s degree in health services administration, with no medical degree in sight.
If you are looking for Marcus Welby, MD, you will only find him on reruns. He doesn’t work in these modern medical factories.
And don’t think for a second that medical malpractice tort law provides any deterrent to this assembly line culture. Insurance premiums are factored into the equation and passed along to the consumers/customers formerly known as patients.
One might also ask, why HHCC, must expend millions of dollars on marketing, when its only real competition is Yale New Haven Health Services Corp.
Wouldn’t money expended on naming rights be better devoted to medical hands-on treatment or medical research? Or is this just another manifestation of crony capitalism?