Legislators upset over UIHC’s trip to Disney World

BY SAM LANE | NOVEMBER 06, 2009 7:20 AM

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A trip to “The Most Magical Place on Earth” for a team of 35 UI Hospitals and Clinics employees isn’t sounding so magical to some Iowa lawmakers.

The team is set to head to the “Disney Institute,” a professional development and training branch of Disney, in the spring. UI officials say the trip is designed to improve the hospital’s low patient-satisfaction rates.

But Iowa legislators decry the trip as imprudent amid the state’s current budget crisis.

On top of the millions already slashed, the UIHC still faces a $14 million cut. Hospital officials are still working on a plan to eliminate the gap.

“This doesn’t pass the common-sense test,” said Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton. “We’re having layoffs and fee increases, and we feel the need to go to Disney Institute?”

He offered the UI Tippie College of Business as an alternative teaching tool.

“Is it absolutely crucial to tour a theme park?” Kaufmann said.

However, the UI spokesman said he believes this “couldn’t be further from the truth,” maintaining officials feel the trip is necessary for the improvement of patient care.

“This is a vital step in the process,” said UI spokesman Tom Moore. “It’s clear that at certain points, organizations can’t afford to hunker down and avoid tough times. We have to reinvest in the organization. This is a cost effective investment in our long-term future.”

Moore said the trip is more cost effective than hiring a private consultant, noting such a hire would cost over $1 million and may take longer than a year.

Kaufmann remained skeptical, saying he believes there are more cost-effective means.

“I believe they’re ignoring solutions that are right under their noses,” he said.

Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hampton, agreed with Kaufmann, saying the hospital is “not cutting back when we need to cut back.”

“I’d like to see more oversight when it comes to things like this,” Grassley said. “They’re not taking a trip to Council Bluffs. They’re going to Orlando. This is a major trip.”

The Disney Institute trip is slated to last two and a half days.

In an e-mail sent to all hospital staff, UI Vice President for Medical Affairs Jean Robillard and other hospital officials justified the trip.

“We want to do what is right for our patients and staff,” they wrote. “That’s why we are willing to make this small investment in service excellence, knowing that it will return big dividends to our patients.”

The e-mail said the cost of the trip will have no effect on students’ tuition because the UIHC does not receive money from the state’s general education fund.

Stacey Thomson, a public-relations manager for Disney Institute, said the program caters training according to organizations’ needs.

“We teach them how Disney implements and has excelled in those areas,” Thomson said.

The UIHC team will observe “Celebration Health,” a hospital associated with Disney and known for a renowned level of service to its patients.

In the most recent “America’s Best Hospitals”report from U.S. News and World Report, the UIHCgarnered a 64 percent hospital satisfaction rating. The average for all reporting hospitals was 64 percent.

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