Whitesburg KY
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A hint of sleaze




Mark Birdwhistell, former Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s secretary of Health and Family Services, declined to talk to Louisville Courier- Journal reporters about a strange coincidence: The hospital that just hired the former governor got a $3.4 million-plus settlement from the cabinet right at the end of Fletcher’s term.

“That world is behind me now,” Birdwhistell said.

Wish we humble taxpayers could say the same.

But, no. We have to endure another whirl in the slightly sleazy world in which public and private money are too closely entwined.

In this case, The Courier-Journal reported, the public money is all Kentucky’s. Although the dispute that gave rise to the settlement was over Medicaid, which typically is 70 percent funded by the federal government, the feds wanted no part of the deal.

Pikeville Medical Center is one of 45 in Kentucky that claimed it deserved additional reimbursement, but it was one of only two authorized for payment last year and the only one to sneak through in the waning days of the Fletcher administration.

Kentucky is much too prone to coincidences in which someone in power grants a boon on the way out of office to a person or organization that finds a way to pay the former officeholder a few months later.

We’re always assured that there has been no quid pro quo. But we rarely have any way of verifying or debunking that.

This one, though, doesn’t make much sense on the face of it. Fletcher has been hired as a consultant for an undisclosed sum to review the Pikeville hospital’s residency and employee-wellness programs.

If you’re scratching your head trying to remember Fletcher’s history as a consultant, or even an expert, in either field, join the crowd. He is a physician but gave up practicing medicine 10 years ago to go into politics.

Even the hospital, in announcing the deal with Fletcher, didn’t claim he had worked as a consultant to hospitals, had any particular experience in employee-wellness programs or residency programs, beyond having once been a resident himself.

Pikeville Medical has a history of cozy relationships. The hospital has advertised on radio stations owned by the board chairman, Walter E. May, and paid May’s wife, a lawyer, to represent the institution.

In 2004, the hospital reported to the IRS that of its 16 voting board members, 14 either did business with or have relatives employed by the hospital.

Welcome aboard, Ernie.

– The Lexington Herald-Leader


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