Pam Ray's daughter, who lives in an adult family home in Madison, can't walk or talk. She's 31 years old chronologically, but more like six to nine months developmentally. Her body contorts involuntarily, even in her sleep. The only thing that keeps her safe, her mother says, is her Vail 1000 bed, with side supports to prevent falls. But authorities in Dane County and the state of Wisconsin are trying to take it away.
"Dane County is not approving continued use of the Vail bed," states a letter Ray received early this month from Fran Genter, a county human services administrator.
This letter says the bed, which drew a citation from the state Department of Health and Family Services, is "considered a restrictive measure" whose use requires county and state approval. And the county has refused, saying "other, less-restrictive measures have not been tried."
Ray disagrees. "All the other options were tried before the Vail bed got to be her bed" in January 2000, she says. The results were disastrous: "My daughter nearly died from no sleep. The state knows it, and the county knows it." But since getting the $8,000 Vail bed, "she's not had an injury - not one."
In June 2005, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that the Vail bed "poses a health risk because patients can become entrapped and suffocate." The agency, prompted by "approximately 30 adverse incident reports, including at least eight deaths," seized unsold hospital beds from the now-defunct manufacturer.
But the FDA says that, under some circumstances and with recommended precautions, the beds can still be used. And the Veterans Administration calls the beds, for some, "the most humane and least-restrictive care modality."
Ray says her daughter's bed is custom-made, making it impossible for her to become entrapped: "I did everything I could to make this the safest possible place for her."
Her daughter's physician, in a letter to authorities, agrees. "Given her history of injury with other beds, I do believe that the Vail 1000 bed continues to be the most appropriate bed for her," the physician wrote. "Her risk of injury without use of the bed remains extremely high."
The county is nonetheless saying no, and the state has asked that the bed be replaced by the end of September. Genter, in his letter, explains that the county "is very concerned that continued use of the bed will jeopardize [state] funding" for the daughter's care. County Executive Kathleen Falk, in reply to a local couple who contacted her about Ray's daughter, seconded that concern:
"If Dane County fails to comply with state and federal rules on restrictive measures, there is a high probability that fiscal penalties will be imposed, and our authority to provide services for people with disabilities will be jeopardized."
Interprets Ray: "The county is being coerced into condoning what the state is doing."
Dave Carlson, a spokesman for Dane County Human Services, cannot discuss specific cases but says that, in general, "We're not going to ignore the state if they tell us something. That's not responsible. We're not going to do something in defiance of state regulations."
Ray plans an appeal to the secretary of Health and Family Services and says, if that fails, she'll fight the matter in court. As she understands it, the bed can't be removed until the appeals process plays out. And that means, at least for a while, her daughter is safe.
Cap flap a bunch of crap
It's hard to imagine anyone with less credibility than Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the big-business lobby known for its blustery efforts to sully the state's image. But it's nonetheless worth noting how spectacularly wrong WMC was in asserting that a 2005 state Supreme Court ruling on medical malpractice would open the floodgates for "predatory personal injury lawyers."
The group pegged the court's decision striking down the $350,000 upper limit on malpractice damage awards "an invitation to tort lawyers everywhere to come to Wisconsin in search of clients and multimillion-dollar jury awards."
Apparently, the invitation got lost in the mail.
According to data culled by the Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers, using state court data, just 204 medical malpractice suits were filed here in 2006, a nine-year low. (The Legislature hiked the damage cap to $750,000 for injuries after April 6, 2006, but most 2006 cases were over injuries from when no cap was in place.)
Moreover, the Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported that state physicians paid just 67 medical malpractice claims in all of 2006. Wisconsin averaged just four paid claims per 1,000 active, nonfederal physicians, third last among the states. Only Alabama and Minnesota paid fewer claims; the national average was 13.2.
Wisconsin did rank third highest in its average paid claim ($517,593) and 24th in terms of total amount ($34.7 million). But physicians here are much less likely to pay out than in other states.
"A Wisconsin physician can now expect to have a negligence claim paid every 250 years," says Madison lawyer Jeff Scott Olson. "We mercenary lawyers are really fleecing those doctors."
Milwaukee attorney Michael End says malpractice cases are rare because they're tough to win: "The insurance companies have made it so difficult for patients to recover a nickel." He cites annual surveys showing that Wisconsin patients have won only 14 jury verdicts in malpractice cases over the last four full years, and just two in 2006.
"MWC keeps saying, 'The sky is falling,'" says End. "In reality, there's no place in the country where doctors are treated better."
Good news, bad news
Bucking the downward trend of newspapers nationally, the Wisconsin State Journal sold a few more papers during the six-month period ending March 30, 2007, than in the prior reporting period. But the numbers for its Sunday paper and the jointly owned Capital Times continued to fall.
According to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, the State Journal sold an average of 88,805 papers from Monday through Friday, up from 87,547 it reported for the six months ending Sept. 30, 2006, but still down from its March 2006 tally of 89,932.
The State Journal's Sunday circulation fell to 143,543, down more than 1,000 from September and about 5,000 from the period ending March 2006.
Meantime, The Capital Times reported average sales of 17,459, Monday through Friday. That's down about 100 from last September and about 600 from March 2006. A decade ago, the paper's circulation still hovered above 20,000.
State Journal publisher Bill Johnston and Cap Times executive editor Paul Fanlund both declined opportunities to comment on the new numbers.
The guy at WYOU who fries up disgusting stuff on a grill has some real competition. The actress Scarlett Johansson, one of the most beautiful and talented people on earth, has recorded a promo for the local public access cable channel.
"We sent her a script," says WYOU executive director Chuck Uphoff, explaining that she chose this above others (presumably) because she's a friend of his daughter Sarah, a.k.a. Pantera Sarah, who owns a restaurant and does celebrity promotions in Los Angeles.
The spot, in which Johannson affirms the importance of public access television, will begin airing next week, in advance of the channel's coveted Youie awards, on June 1.