Scripps Tips - September 2008

A monthly list of story ideas for journalists

Delayed State Budget Costs Scripps More Than $5 million in Unpaid Medi-Cal Claims

The stalled state budget, which has resulted in no Medi-Cal payments since late July, is hurting California hospitals – especially safety-net hospitals such as Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego and Chula Vista. Scripps Health, which operates five hospital campuses in San Diego County, is owed more than $5.3 million in Medi-Cal claims because there is no state budget ($4.4 million for the two Mercy campuses). Roughly a quarter of Scripps Mercy’s patients are Medi-Cal patients. Statewide, more than $950 million is owed to health care providers because of the delayed budget and is growing daily.

Scripps also is owed an additional $3.45 million in outstanding treatment authorization requests (TARs) from Medi-Cal and growing daily. TARs are authorizations for service for inpatient and outpatient care that are submitted to a Medi-Cal field office for review and approval. TAR approval is required by Medi-Cal before hospitals can submit most claims to the state for payment. Current review of TARs is taking more than 30 days and has taken as long as six months, further exacerbating cash-flow challenges for safety-net hospitals.

The lack of a budget is one problem for hospitals. Another is the budget itself, which includes a 10 percent reduction in Medi-Cal reimbursement. The cuts were blocked by a federal judge on Aug. 19 and the state has appealed that ruling. If the cuts are allowed to remain, all health care providers – hospitals, physicians, community clinics and nursing homes – will face difficult choices and the likelihood of providers dropping out of the Medi-Cal program, some closing their doors and others decreasing services. For Scripps, the result could mean more uninsured patients visiting our emergency departments for care because they have no other options. Last year, Scripps provided $237 million in uncompensated care – largely through its emergency departments – between its two campuses.

Scripps President and CEO Chris Van Gorder is available for interviews on this topic. Please contact Don Stanziano at 858-678-7486 or to schedule an interview.

Inspirational Stories of Survival Highlight Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month takes place in October, and several San Diego survivors have amazing personal stories of courage, perseverance and compassion to share. Consider these patient stories from Scripps Cancer Center:

• A retired middle school principal turned her own battle against breast cancer into a mission to help others by forming San Diego’s first African-American breast cancer support group. Studies suggest African American women have a lower incidence of breast cancer – but a higher death rate, which places a premium on education and support services. Cassandra Countryman’s efforts have helped hundreds throughout San Diego County.

• A North County mother and daughter who not only dress and talk alike – they were also diagnosed with breast cancer on the same day in 2007, and underwent surgery on the same day in the same hospital. Together, Sue and Pattie Hopkins are now on the path to recovery.

To arrange an interview with a Scripps Cancer Center physician and breast cancer survivor, please contact Steve Carpowich at (858) 678-7183, or

Scripps La Jolla Pain Doc Teams Up With Race Car Driver to Offer Hope to Chronic Pain Sufferers

Scripps La Jolla pain specialist Christopher Chisholm, M.D., is teaming up with professional race car driver Michael Roman to offer help and healing for chronic pain sufferers. Roman will share his story about how he successfully received a spinal cord stimulator for a phantom pain caused by the amputation of his right leg after a severe knee infection. Dr. Chisholm will address the practice of pain medicine as a multi-disciplinary approach in a free public seminar at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla on Thursday, Sept. 25 at 5:30 p.m. Also on hand will be Roman’s open wheel formula 1 race car. Dr. Chisholm and Roman are available for in-studio interviews on Sept. 24 and 25. Live morning interviews are also available on Sept. 25. For more information, please contact Lisa Ohmstede at 858-626-7142, or

Diving Injures Estimated 6,500 Kids Per Year

The 2008 Summer Olympic Games have recently wrapped up, and much of the world tuned into favorites such as swimming and diving. Children often try to emulate what they see on television, and diving is responsible for a high number of injuries per year. An estimated 6,500 children and adolescents under 20 go to hospital emergency rooms each year due to diving injuries, according to an article in last month’s Pediatrics. Scripps Clinic pediatric sports medicine specialist Paul Stricker, M.D. is available to discuss ways to keep your kids safe in and around the pool, as they’re more likely now than ever to attempt that double-backflip they’ve seen on-screen. To learn more or to arrange an interview, please contact Ian Wright at 858-652-5519, or

Employee Wellness Programs Prove Effective in Improving Health

As politicians debate the best path toward health care reform, a relatively new approach to fostering better health – the employee wellness program – is proving effective. For example, 75 percent of Scripps Health’s 12,300 employees participate in Scripps’ wellness program, launched in 2006. Program participants have 30 percent lower medical and pharmacy costs; a 25 percent reduction in hospital visits; 17 percent fewer ER visits; and use 11 percent fewer prescriptions, compared to non-participants. Scripps employee Colene Absalom, 65, recently gave up her lifelong smoking habit thanks to the Scripps wellness program. By giving workers the tools and encouragement they need to live healthier lives, employers are showing they can help relieve some of the ever-increasing demand for health care services. To arrange interviews for a story on employee wellness programs, please contact Steve Carpowich at (858) 678-7183, or

Sterility, Minus Surgery

Women have a new option for birth control that doesn’t involve pills or surgery. Until recently, the only permanent option for sterility for women has been tubal ligation (“tying the tubes”). Now a procedure called Essure, approved last year by the Food and Drug Administration, gives women an alternative. The procedure, which can be done in the doctor’s office, involves inserting a pluglike coil through the cervix into each fallopian tube. Over time, tissue grows over the devices, permanently blocking the tubes and keeping sperm out. According to the manufacturer, Essure is 99.8 percent effective in preventing pregnancy — a rate similar to that of tubal ligation. To learn more about this procedure and to schedule an interview with Scripps La Jolla ob/gyn Mel Kurtulus, M.D., please contact Lisa Ohmstede at 858-626-7142, or

Black is the New Green: Your Favorite Foods, Only Healthier

When it comes to plant-based foods, deep, vibrant colors are widely known to be one of the best indicators of what’s healthiest. A simple swap can provide a big nutritional payoff, like choosing pink grapefruit over white, or dark greens over pale lettuce. As such it may come as little surprise that black foods can pack a potent health benefit too. That’s exactly the case with the midnight-hued rice, beans, tea, and berries. To learn more or to arrange an interview with medical director of the Scripps Clinic Center for Weight Management, Ken Fujioka, M.D., please contact Ian Wright at 858-652-5519 or