Squabble over scannersBy Molly Tanenbaum
Members vote to strengthen conflict-of-interest policy after recent skirmishes
Tensions rose once again last week on the Board of Directors, when vice chair David Reeder suggested that board chair Edward Bough's purchase of a high-tech medical device amounted to conflict of interest.
The issue began when Reeder delivered a PowerPoint presentation on a potential conflict of interest involving the purchase of two new, advanced 64-slice CT scanners by both El Camino Hospital and board chair Edward Bough's cardiology group, CVI Medical Group -- the implication being that Bough is competing with the hospital he represents, and should have disclosed his purchase earlier.
Several hours and snipes later, it resolved itself with the board deciding to develop a clearer conflict-of-interest policy.
"I do believe that a physician board member should not compete with a hospital in a major way and I think the scanner was a major way," Reeder said after the meeting.
Since the issue involved the board chair, vice chair Reeder followed the board's conflict of interest policy and began researching the potential conflict last October, after Bough disclosed CVI's plans to buy a Siemens 64-slice CT scanner. At the November meeting, the board approved a $341,000 upgrade to El Camino's 16-slice CT scanner under the hospital's 10-year contract with Siemens. Bough had recused himself from this vote, but Reeder believed he didn't disclose the conflict early enough.
A 64-slice CT scanner is a new imaging technology that can scan patients faster and at higher resolutions. The advantages include better visualization of coronary arteries, which would improve diagnoses of heart disease and other ailments.
To further complicate the issue, board member Dominick Curatola's cardiology group, Altos Cardiovascular Associates, has met recently with CVI about a possible merger. He became incensed when Reeder requested that Curatola recuse himself from discussing the CT scanner, along with Bough.
"It's bordering on McCarthyism. It's a witch hunt," a red-faced Curatola said to Reeder, claiming his cardiology group has no interest in the scanner. Curatola refused Reeder's request that he recuse himself from the discussion, arguing, "I've earned the trust of the public for longer than you have." He also suggested that the chances of a merger are slim, making his interest in CVI's scanner insignificant.
Unable to move forward on the issue, the board sought advice from a consultant, health care attorney Dan Roble, who stressed that conflicts of interest do not mean wrongdoing -- and that there's nothing wrong with competition between hospitals and physicians -- but simply that board members should disclose any potential conflicts before they happen. Both he and hospital attorney Mitch Olejko recommended that the board "beef up" its conflict-of-interest policy to better handle situations pertaining to physician members of the board.
Bough told the board that his group's CT scanner did not present a conflict because CVI had decided before El Camino to purchase the device, a point which Reeder disputed.
To put an end to the debate, director Mark O'Connor proposed a successful motion to establish a better conflict-of-interest policy. Members agreed, and will begin working on a new policy at next month's meeting on April 5.
Camino Medical Group also plans to buy a CT scanner for its new building, bringing to three the number of these devices in Mountain View.
E-mail Molly Tanenbaum at mtanenbaum