Posted as comments to the news story about our legal action:
In my editorial page column Wednesday, I explained why we're in federal court asking a judge to unseal court documents related to Mayo's $6.5 million settlement with the federal government.
I asked readers, "Do you think this case is a big deal? Let me know."
Here's what a few people had to say.
I thank you for investigating this Mayo-U.S. research money case. I do feel
the public needs all the facts. The two very different stances of Mayo and
the Federal Government leaves too many unanswered questions. Heath care is
the largest inflationary factor in our economy today. Research for better
health is vital however the money needs to be spent appropriately.
-- Susan Bartels, Rochester
Dear Mr. Furst:
At your invitation, I am replying to your editorial of Wed June 29th. Your dogged pursuit of the records of the case between Mayo and the U.S. Attorney General’s Office has the flavor of more than just seeking the “facts." The U.S. attorney general’s office is charged with carrying out the laws of the country and it appears that it has done so. While non-involved local citizens don’t know all the details of the recent case, I think most must feel that the Attorney General’s office had a fairly strong case and that the Mayo Clinic also thought so. Otherwise, why did Mayo agree to the settlement? The government is satisfied. If the government’s case was spurious, Mayo would have gone to court. I don’t think you can ask Mayo representatives to say more than they have. One can fairly conclude that Mayo Clinic has been careless in accounting or even a little worse. I am sure they will change for the better in this regard, and they will be monitored. It does us all good to see that even a big powerful institution needs to follow the rules.
Do we need to go further? I don’t think additional newspaper expenditure warrants a high priority. I don’t think the average citizen in Rochester will understand things any better with more details in the newspaper than they do now. We already know there are two sides to the argument. If Rochester, and others, would clearly learn more about the issues with continued publicity that would make us better citizens, it might be worthwhile. I can’t see that that would be the result. Only added polarization is the potential outcome. The Mayo Clinic has been a strong contributing institution for Rochester. Do those of us who have benefited having the Clinic in Rochester want to further publicize issues that make us and the community look bad? I doubt it. Sometimes one gets on an issue and perspective gets pushed to the background. The note about Jeb Bush, just below your editorial, is a case in point. Bush can’t seem to see that we can learn no more from this issue. His purpose is politics. He needs to go with what he might have learned from the case rather than get stuck in the muck.
-- Gene Hunder, retired Mayo Clinic employee, Rochester
It seems to me that the P-B is trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill. As I read the summary in your note, the allegation was that Mayo transferred some costs to different projects, not that there was money claimed which would not have been due, only that some projects ran over budget, some were under budget. Some of those overruns were charged to other projects, which is often done in business and government.
As you know, accountants and lawyers often see the same thing from different viewpoints, as do judges and newspaper people. The news folks, like yourself, often seem to create a "temptest in a teapot" over seemingly trivial details.
So, Mayo has been told that its practice isn't correct, under current interpertation of the rules; they've paid a fine, and are going about their business of medical research. Hopefully, they will continue to receive funding but account for it by the rules. All we need is a common interpertation of those rules.
If you do get what you want, the files, how/who will explain them to the public? Is Hensel an accountant, a CPA, a lawyer? Or, will he just pluck a few large numbers out of the files and go from there? I'd say to assign him to some real news.
Today's column, with links:
Answer Man, how come they don’t update Cooke Park on Seventh Street Northwest? The park holds many events and is on the city bike path, yet it remains untouched as far as updates. Do you have an answer?
While no one would say Cooke Park is the Cadillac of Rochester parks, the city has put some decent money into it in recent years.
Roy Sutherland, city parks director, says the playground equipment was updated about five years ago, horseshoe courts have been installed, the tennis courts have been blacktopped and will get a fresh coat this year, and the WPA-era shelter has gotten a new roof and has been tuckpointed and stained.
One of the bigger cosmetic issues at Cooke is the gravel parking lot, and Sutherland says that’s on the list for overlay along with reconstruction of Seventh Street Northwest late this year or next spring.
“It’s a busy park, but I don’t think it’s in bad shape,” he says. “The real question for us is, how do we keep up the infrastructure, the existing parks, and also add new ones” as the city grows. “We’re real good at being reactive and not as good at being proactive.”
The city has 108 parks, including 54 playgrounds. Playgrounds are depreciated over a 20-year period, so a few are being replaced or renovated every year, Sutherland says.
Speaking of parks ...
I’ve never heard of Joyce Park, the park where the playground equipment was torched Monday. Who’s it named for and how big is it?
The park, east of Marion Road and south of the Eastwood Golf Course area, is named for Leon Joyce, who owned a construction business and donated much of the land about 15 years ago. The area was beyond the city limits at that time, but the city has added some adjacent land, and it’s become a fine neighborhood park of 22 acres.
If you have any information about the arson fire that reduced the playground equipment to a puddle of molten plastic, call 1-800-723-2020.
Why don’t beer bottles have nutrition labels on them? — Nick
Because booze isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is in charge, and though they get pressure now and then to require the nutrition data, they haven’t hopped to it yet.
Beer’s nutritional value is almost nil, anyway. You’re getting about 150 calories per bottle, along with 15 mg to 20 mg of sodium, about 1 percent of your daily recommended intake, and 13 grams of carbs (about 4 percent), but that’s it.
It’s like my answer last week regarding the nutritional value of mini-donuts — you don’t need a label to tell you there’s not much food value in a glass of Bud.
For the record, a glass of red wine has about half the calories and sodium, and almost no carbs.
Great One, do you think the years of construction on U.S. 52 in Rochester have made us better drivers or worse? — R.C., Rochester
You can’t be serious — we’re worse by a long shot. We’re ruder, more aggressive, less patient with other drivers, easier confused about whether we’re even in the right lane, and quicker to grab the cell phone while we’re stuck in traffic — it’ll take years to lower the blood pressure and undo all the bad habits and mind games we’ve learned.
That said, we’ll all be driving on a nice highway while we’re in recovery.
The only mind game the Answer Man plays is to inform yours. Play ball by sending questions to You Asked, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55904, or to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more You Asked, check out the Web log Furst Draft at www.postbulletin.com.
Another piece of Mayo research made possible by its gold mine of patient records:
Rheumatoid-arthritis sufferers are at an increased risk of death if they also suffer from coronary artery disease, U.S. researchers have found.
In a report to be published in the June 29 issue of the journal Arthritis Research and Therapy, the researchers said patients who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis in combination with multi-vessel coronary artery disease show an increased risk of death from heart disease compared to those who do not have both conditions.
Dr. Cornelia Weyand, a rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said she thinks the implications go beyond those diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
"Studying how the rheumatoid process affects heart attacks ... can trail down to you and me," Weyand told United Press International. "The process of this is very important for almost everyone."
The research, based on analysis of medical records obtained through the clinic, compared patients who had sought treatment from 1985 to 1998 in Olmsted County, Minn., and who were diagnosed with coronary artery disease with patients who had rheumatoid arthritis in combination with coronary heart disease. ...
Here's an editor's column from the Ashland, Ore., Daily Tidings, regarding a bizarre story and photo package that ran on Page One...it beings with this mea culpa:
Readers have been reacting this week to a front-page story we ran on Tuesday that delved into the strange and disturbing scene of body modification, a practice where people suspend themselves by hanging from multiple piercings along their body.
Those who are angry about the story have cancelled subscriptions, written letters to the editor and contacted Tidings management to protest the story. Some have used terms like “disturbing,” “sensational” and even “pornographic.”
The bulk of complaints center around our decision to put a story that represents a very small, non-mainstream slice of the community on the front page, displayed prominently. Also, the photos, which showed people suspended by hooks, were viewed as too graphic for a newspaper.
This story was not intended to sensationalize or even promote this activity. ...
Not having seen the coverage yet (I'll check it out later), I can empathize with Editor Boisinger. He can protest all he wants about not intending to pander or sensationalize, but the rock-bottom truth must be: He and his editors thought a lurid, weird, disturbing story with pics it was the best stuff they had that day.
The "promotion" aspect is another matter. None of us in the news business would say we put a story on the front page to "promote" some sort of conduct. Yet -- again, in our heart of hearts -- I know many news people who advocate stories for 1A because it matches their political or social POV -- so they're essentially "promoting" their POV. It's easy, therefore, to see how some readers believe that putting a "body modification" package on the front page is tantamount to promoting it. May not be true, but reader perception trumps reality at times.
A note from a friend who does some writing for the Post-Bulletin:
I was at a picnic last week at Quarry Hill and it was hilarious to hear people talk authoritatively about the Quarry Hill caves. Several noted, "I read it in the paper," or "It was just in the paper. Really interesting."
It's always interesting to hear how people read the paper and actually hear that they read the stuff we do.
Wilsey's book has all the elements of a good memoir. A good memoir is filled with wit, humor, and wisdom. A good memoir is honest—searingly so—and redemptive. A good memoir is not an easy weekend read; it causes considerable discomfort—that you, too, have done all these things, or might have, in similar circumstances; that you, too, have hurt people this badly. A good memoir says, "Here's the scumbag I was, but by the grace of God, look what happened!" The proof lies in the final, conciliatory pages, which say, I am what I am because of these people, my family. Thank you.
Wednesday's editorial page column:
Americans invest a lot of tax money in health care research every year — hundreds of millions of dollars. Many people, including me, would say it’s a great way to spend tax money.
Mayo Foundation gets a big chunk of that money, more thant $100 million a year, which pays a lot of bills at the clinic and is a vital part of what makes Mayo a world-class research institution.
How that money is spent is a matter of public interest, and when Mayo runs afoul of federal rules on how that money is spent, it’s news. Big news, in Rochester and the area.
That’s why the Post-Bulletin has gone to court to ask a federal district judge to open the files on the $6.5 million civil settlement between Mayo Foundation and the federal government.
In late May, Mayo agreed to pay that amount to settle the case filed by the U.S. government on behalf of former Mayo employee and whistle-blower Christine Long. The government alleged Mayo officials improperly transferred money between research grant accounts.
To be precise, the government alleged that Mayo “violated the False Claims Act when they falsely charged the government under research grants for costs not associated with those grants,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The U.S. Attorney alleged that Mayo “mischarged the government by transferring costs incurred on research activities funded by overspent grants and internal Mayo costs to grants that had not fully exhausted their funding. As a result, the United States paid Mayo more under the grants than Mayo was entitled to receive.”
Mayo, in agreeing to the settlement, said the case was basically a disagreement about bookkeeping practices. “All federal grant dollars have been accounted for,” Dr. Denis Cortese, Mayo president and CEO, said in a press statement. “The inquiry reflected a difference of opinion over bookkeeping procedures, specifically how Mayo Clinic internally tracks its research expenses.”
A Mayo spokesman said the clinic did nothing unethical, and the settlement was a business decision to put the matter behind them.
So who’s right, the federal government or Mayo? Is this a big deal or not? Just an expensive bookkeeping problem or something more?
It’s our job to find out, and it’s your right as citizens to know more about the allegations and how the case was resolved.
P-B reporter Jeff Hansel has been working this story hard; among other actions, we have filed Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain documents that would help explain this dispute and how it could affect the region’s biggest employer.
The key documents in the case are the court files, and the judge took the unusual step of locking up the paperwork before the settlement was reached. Unless someone challenges the court and takes the legal action necessary to open those files, we’ll never know what exactly this case was about.
That someone, in Mayo vs. U.S., is us. Though the news media rarely win any wine and roses for this type of thing, we believe it’s essential that we go to bat for the public’s right to know.
We’re hoping the judge sees the compelling public interest in this case when we go to court on July 14.
Do you think this case is a big deal? Let me know.
Furst is the Post-Bulletin’s managing editor and his column appears Wednesdays. To comment, send a note to email@example.com or P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55904, or call him at 285-7742. He writes a daily Web log at www.postbulletin.com.
Here's an online-only Q&A for the Answer Man:
I would like information and an identity of KROC AM radio's Uncle Nordy? Look forward to seeing this in the Post Bulletin.
The answer, as of 6/30/03, when I addressed this in print...if you're aware of updates, add a comment:
A: "He's a character, in more ways than one," KROC-AM radio host Steve Skogen said.
Nordy, which is a shortened form of his alleged real last name of Nordblom, has been appearing on the morning show on KROC for 12 years. ...
"All I can tell you about him is he used to work for the highway department as a flag man," Skogen said. "He lives south of Rochester and east of Stewartville. We ran into him at the Oslo store; he was trying to buy frozen lutefisk. We told him to call the show, and he's been doing it for 12 years."
Of course, Skogen also claimed he doesn't know Nordy's first name. "We don't even have a home phone number for him." So it's possible Uncle Nordy is a figment of the imagination of a radio announcer who has ingested too many lye-soaked fish himself through the years.
"We've had people say he's one of us," Skogen said of himself and co-host Rich Peterson. "But I say, 'No, neither one of us knows that much about things.'"