Tag Archives: Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Reporter’s investigation exposes inefficient charity

In the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jane Friedmann used simple tax documents and a local woman’s complaint to show that most of the money raised by the Austim Spectrum Disorder Foundation goes toward sustaining the foundation’s fundraising, not toward families living with autism. It’s a brief, effective piece of reporting of the sort that can and should be localized more often. For the record, here are the numbers Friedmann got from the return.

The charitable group pulled in $1.2 million in 2009, according to its IRS filing, but the charity listed a negative balance of $29,679 at the end of the year. It listed three employees and 89,128 “volunteers” …

The group hired two companies to raise funds for ASDF in 2009, but neither did much to help the cause. Ohio-based Infocision kept all $876,832 it raised, while Missouri-based Precision Performance Marketing kept all but $37,842 of the $203,227 it raised.

The tax form reveals the group held no “structured, formal meetings” in 2009. It spent $313,751 on “materials and fulfillment” and $120,241 on postage.

She also called local and national autism charities for their perspective on the dubious foundation, then included a few paragraphs which helped readers make more informed choices when doling out charitable contributions.

To investigate charitable organizations in your area, find out how to to understand an IRS 990 form, the tax return that nonprofit organizations file. It tells you the organization’s revenues and expenses, and its assets and liabilities. You can see whether or not it is making a profit, and how its fund balance, or net assets, has changed over the past year.

Article looks at evidence behind back surgery

In the Star Tribune, Janet Moore seeks to counter aggressive spinal surgery with equally aggressive journalism. It’s a comprehensive take on a subject which journalists have been hammering away at piecemeal for some time now. Her anecdotes are strong, and her numbers doubly so. For example:


Photo by planetc1 via Flickr

Four out of five Americans will suffer from disabling back pain during their lifetimes, according to the National Institutes of Health. Spending on back care soared between 1997 and 2005, reaching $86 billion — just shy of what Americans spent battling cancer.

As those numbers have multiplied, so have questions about the more aggressive forms of back treatment. A 2008 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for example, noted that the increase in back-care spending occurred “without evidence of corresponding improvement” in patients’ health.

As Moore points out, this is a debate that will continue as health reform is implemented because the new legislation will “require doctors and hospitals to demonstrate that their services are cost-effective. In that vein, the New England HealthCare Institute estimates the United States could save roughly $1 billion a year by eliminating unnecessary back surgeries.”

Minnesota is home to Medtronic, a leading maker of devices used in spinal surgery. Medtronic has consultation arrangements with a number of doctors and some experts question whether that relationship has an effect on how many spinal surgeries are done. The head of the Association for Ethics in Spine Surgery, says these financial incentives create demand for certain brands of product.

It’s a lengthy piece, and the numbers are just one component. The whole package is definitely worth a read.


Doctors face obstacles in transition to costly EMRs

In his American Journey blog, the Wall Street Journal‘s Andy Jordan considered the impact of stimulus funds on the health-care system’s expensive and time-consuming transition to electronic medical records in terms of physicians he encountered in his cross-country travels.

In rural Alabama, Dr. Regina Benjamin switched to EMRs after losing paper records to a combination of hurricanes and fires.

“When a patient or pharmacy calls at night or on a weekend, I do not have to rely on memory. I can access the chart from any computer, at home, from the hospital, from my hotel room when traveling.
This prevents errors and I can give better care. I can also quickly look at trends and patterns, pick up things earlier than if I had to look thru paper charts.” She was able to fund her conversion through donations and foundation support.

In Cambridge, Ohio Jordan met Dr. Patrick Goggin, who he said spent about $300,000 to convert to electronic medical records five years ago. Jordan recorded a four-and-a-half minute video showing the Dr. Goggin’s system in action. Jordan also spoke with Dr. Goggin’s colleague, Dr. David Ray.

“Advantages are not quite there as far as outweighing the costs,” (Dr. Ray) says.
“The technology is probably just not quite there yet for most solo practitioners and small practices to implement such a system.”

In the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Kate Levinson reports on growing demand for centers to store this medical data and on a study that found mid-size Midwestern cities to be among the most attractive to the medical data storage industry.

Steve Lohr of The New York Times reports that the obstacles to a transition to electronic medical records are daunting. Experts say that how local organizations help doctors in small offices adopt electronic records will be crucial to success. Lohr explains “regional health I.T. extension centers,” called for in Obama’s budget proposal that has been submitted to Congress.