University of Utah Medical Center officials blame the media and a few disgruntled employees for problems that have surfaced between U. Hospital and Primary Children's Medical Center and have sent a memo to U. employees threatening them with discipline if they speak anonymously to the media.
The memo comes in the midst of an investigation by the Utah attorney general's office into possible antitrust violations between the two medical facilities. The U. Hospital is owned by the state. Primary Children's is owned by Intermountain Health Care, a private multihospital system.The investigation, which has been confirmed by several physicians as well as outside counsel hired to represent the U. Hospital, has been the focus of media attention for several weeks.
"The U. Hospital administration is very anxious to get all of this controversy behind us so both hospitals can get on with the business of serving the public," said U. Hospital spokesman John Dwan. Dwan called the Deseret News Friday and asked that his remarks be included in a story on Primary Children's new helicopter. (See accompanying story.)
Dwan distributed a memo to University Hospital employees Friday admonishing them not to make anonymous remarks to the media. The memo, he said, was triggered by a statement in Friday's Salt Lake Tribune attributed to an unidentified University Hospital official.
"University Hospitals officials do not make public statements with which they do not wish to be identified," read the memo, written Friday by hospital administrator George Belsey. "Whoever made these statements to the Tribune did so on his or her own responsibility and not as a representative of the University Hospital."
Belsey added, "This is only the most recent and most blatant violation of the hospital's policy concerning issuing official statements and such violations must stop. Any violations of this policy will result in disciplinary action."
Dwan told the Deseret News that the "public controversy really is simply being fed and even caused by a very few unhappy employees who are constantly feeding the news media titillating tidbits."
Asked if he blamed the state's interest in the two hospitals on employees and the media, Dwan questioned the existence of an investigation.
When told that the Utah attorney general's office had issued Civil Investigative Demands for information to U. and Primary employees, Dwan said, "I think the leaking of titillating tidbits is an effort to influence the investigation. Whatever the attorney general's office does is their responsibility and no one is questioning that. But the public controversy is being fed by a very small group of dissident employees who have the ear of the news media. It is partly the news media's appetite for conflict and controversy. Let's face it, that's what sells.
"Both hospitals are outstanding hospitals and we are just going to get on with our business," he said.
According to Belsey, that means individual employees will be free to make "whatever statements they wish to the news media, but they must do so on their own time and assume personal responsibility for their statements, keeping in mind the normal standards of loyalty expected an employee."
In the memo, Belsey said the official spokespersons for University Hospital include the hospital administrators, the director of community relations and the nursing supervisor.
"All others must receive permission from one of the above to officially represent the hospital," the memo read.
Gov. Norm Bangerter's chief of staff admires the U. Hospital's effort at employee control but was dubious about whether it would work.
"That would be state policy if I thought we could get away with it," said Bud Scruggs. "Obviously you can't have 1,000 people serving as official spokespersons, but I have found that any attempt to try to muzzle employees inevitably fails."
Scruggs said he has no problem with the hospitals "educating their employees to the true nature of the controversy, but I am not sure these kinds of memos engender the kind of loyalty we all hope to have from our employees."
He added, "These are great hospitals that don't deserve the public beating they have gotten, but I don't think that the memo is a smart way to respond to it."