Monday PM August 21st, 2006

FEMA approaches one year mark and $4 billion mark a year after Hurricane Katrina...St. Joseph Medical Center now run as for-profit medical facility, after purchase by Hospital Partners of America... Texas Employee Confidence Index reaches 62.7...

The refugee odyssey of those displaced by Hurricane Katrina is nearly one year old. By late July, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had doled out more than $4 billion in housing assistance. Families and individuals who suffered damage from Hurricane Rita have been approved to receive more than $973.3 million in disaster assistance, including grants from FEMA and loans from the Small Business Administration. Another $857.63 million in public assistance has been obligated to the State of Texas by FEMA to reimburse local governments and agencies for debris removal, temporary sheltering, interim housing and emergency protective measures. Texas is receiving $428.6 million in Community Development Block Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Houston & Urban Development to reimburse communities for costs associated with hurricane damage and accommodation of victims. Officials have said that about 250,000 evacuees--mainly from Louisiana--are still in Texas. More than half settled in Houston. Katrina hit the Gulf Coast last August 29th. Those forced to leave New Orleans ended up across the country.


A decision by the judge overseeing Enron's bankruptcy has prompted warnings from investment banks, bond traders and stock investors that it could do harm to U.S. capital markets. The ruling by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Arthur Gonzalez says holders of claims against a bankrupt company could see those claims wiped out even if they did nothing wrong in their relationship with the company. Holders of bankruptcy claims could be at risk if they merely bought a claim from another creditor who may have engaged in misconduct. One investment bank says a federal district judge should review the bankruptcy judge's ruling. Enron's lawyers have defended the decision, saying it helps reduce the threat of "claims washing," in which a creditor who otherwise would have trouble directly collecting on a claim obtains a payoff simply by selling the claim. Dow Jones Newswires reports that Bond Market Association, International Swaps & Derivatives Association, Loan Syndications & Trading Association and the Securities Industry Association have filed court papers criticizing the judge's ruling.


St. Joseph Medical Center is now being run as a for-profit medical facility, after its purchase by Hospital Partners of America. HPA is a privately-held healthcare company that operates general acute care hospitals in partnership with physicians. HPA Vice President of Texas Operations and CEO Phil Robinson says the city will benefit, financially.

"Now that we're a for-profit hospital, we're paying taxes to the city, the county, the hospital district, the school district, so we've just added quite a bit to the tax base with these nine city blocks that we purchased downtown. Ed: What are some other changes that we might see here? Well, some of the changes are subtle, and more on the infrastructure side, you know, upgrading some of the systems and some of the facilities. Some of them are very visible. We're replacing the CT scanners, the CAT scanners. We put in valet parking today at two sites to make our campus more accessible and convenient. We are committed to a facility renovation project whereby we start and renovate floor by floor. We're going to reopen our psychiatry beds. We have quite a few beds that are closed right now, and the city badly needs additional mental health capacity, so we're going to reopen the psychiatry services, so we've got a lot of plans, a lot going on."

St. Joseph will continue its tradition as Houston's first teaching, maternity and emergency care hospital.


The University of Houston System Board of Regents has approved a $984 million budget for fiscal year 2007. The new budget is a 2.6 percent increase from the previous year's total of $959 million. The new budget, effective September 1st, allocates $2.5 million in new financial aid funds. It adds 53 new faculty members and provides raises of two percent for faculty and staff, and three percent for salary increases at UH-Victoria. The main UH campus will receive $716.6 million; UH-Clear Lake, $84.6 million; UH-Downtown, $128.1 million; UH-Victoria, $36.1 million; and UH System Administration Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch, $18.9 million.


The Texas Employee Confidence Index reached 62.7 in July, according to a monthly Harris Interactive survey. The Texas Spherion Employment Report says the record number is primarily because more workers reported optimism in the strength of the economy and job availability. Some 86 percent of workers believe it is unlikely they will lose their job in the next year. But about a third indicated they are likely to look for a new job in the next year. Spherion is advising that employers pay closer attention to retention efforts and expand on their perks to attract top candidates.


The country's number three chicken producer--Gold Kist--said today it wants to remain a stand-alone company, despite buyout offers. One of those offers was made public last week from Pittsburg, Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride. But Atlanta-based Gold Kist says its board of directors will consider the latest offer. Pilgrim's Pride is the nation's number two chicken producer. Gold Kist said in a statement that Pilgrim's Pride has made several unsolicited offers this year to buy the company. Gold Kist rejected the offers each time, with the most recent rejection in July. On Friday, Pilgrim's Pride made public its latest offer of $20 a share in cash. That's equal to about $1 billion--or 55 percent--over Gold Kist's closing stock price Friday. Pilgrim's Pride also would absorb $144 million in Gold Kist debt. Gold Kist says it plans to proceed with strategies to expand its business after weathering a recent downturn in poultry prices.


HCA says ten computers with Medicare and Medicaid billing information and records of employees and physicians have been stolen. The equipment was swiped from one of the Tennessee-based company's regional offices. HCA won't say where or when the theft occurred as the FBI investigates. The computers have files on Medicare and Medicaid patients treated at HCA hospitals in Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington state or Texas since 1996. Company officials say the computers have some patient names and social security numbers but no addresses or dates of birth. HCA also discovered that the names and social security numbers of about 7,000 employees and physicians in Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana and Texas are on the computers. The company is notifying affected people--by letter.


Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...