Laura, with your permission I would like to share with your readers a letter I sent to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, the facility where Palin claims she gave birth to Trig. Last month I sent the hospital a copy of my article on Palin and the press, along with a cover letter, seeking comments. (You may recall that on Oct. 3, 2008, Dr. Cathy Baldwin-Johnson – or more likely, some lawyer writing on her behalf – had artfully referred to Palin’s “home community hospital,” a seeming reference to Mat-Su that nonetheless made it possible to avoid naming any hospital as Trig’s place of birth.)
My letter reached Mat-Su on August 12, per the USPS tracking number. I addressed it to the hospital’s director of marketing (i.e. head of PR), Sterling Grover. Here is the letter:
Dear Mr. Grover,
I have attached a copy of an article I will probably publish in the next month. I am sending it to you as a courtesy.
As you will see, Mat-Su Regional Medical Center looks in the article as if it may have been (possibly inadvertently) involved in a hoax relating to the alleged birth of Trig Palin by Sarah Palin on April 18, 2008, at your hospital.
I am aware that HIPAA regulations prevent you from commenting without a patient’s permission on any lawful activity that occurred. On the other hand, it may be that such regulations would not apply in the case of fraud.
Please answer the following questions, even if the answer is “no comment” or some variant of that. For convenience, please feel free to send your responses to me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
. 1. Can you state unequivocally that no employee of the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center participated in fraudulent activity relative to the alleged birth of Trig Palin by Sarah Palin on April 18, 2008?
. 2. Can you state unequivocally that no employee or board member of Valley Hospital Association participated in fraudulent activity relative to the alleged birth of Trig Palin by Sarah Palin on April 18, 2008? [VHA largely runs Mat-Su.]
. 3. Can you state unequivocally that no physician then on active status at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center participated in fraudulent activity relative to the alleged birth of Trig Palin by Sarah Palin on April 18, 2008?
. 4. Is it possible a former board member of Valley Hospital Association could have stayed in a room of your hospital on April 18, 2008, without your staff being aware of it? In other words, is it possible for a former board member to obtain a room at your hospital without going through the usual check-in procedures?
Changing directions here, on April 28 of this year Dave Weigel posted the following at Slate.com:
Yesterday … I called up Mat-Su Regional Hospital, where, according to contemporary media reports, Trig Palin was born. I was patched through to the family birthing center. The director had left for the day, sadly, so I spoke to a unit clerk who answered my questions but politely asked for me not to use her name.
Why'd I call the hospital? One of the original concerns Sullivan had with the Trig Palin story – one that's based on an absent fact, and not on innuendo – was that Mat-Su Regional did not list Trig Palin's birth on its website. There's a portion of the web site, the baby nursery, where newborns are listed. Trig, born on April 18, 2008, is not there. And that's somewhat curious. So: Is every baby born at the hospital listed on the web site?
"No, it's not automatic," said the clerk. "Truth be told, we do take security photos of all the babies, but if the parents want their babies listed on the web site, they can request it. We're really sensitive about it, though. I think the hospital took up the policy not to publish names automatically because of possible baby kidnapping issues."
The clerk, realizing that Washington, D.C. reporters don't typically cold call her hospital, asked me if this call was about "our former governor." It was. Was Trig Palin born there?
"Oh, that's not even a question," she said. (If my reception was better I could have heard her eyes rolling at this point.) "Yes. Everybody here remembers that. Yes, this is where the Palins come -- this is their family hospital."
So, an employee of your hospital apparently said it’s “not even a question” whether Trig was born at your hospital, adding; “Yes. Everybody here remembers that. Yes, this is where the Palins come – this is their family hospital.” Please answer the following:
. 1. Is it the policy of your hospital to allow clerks to anonymously make statements like the one Mr. Weigel says a clerk made to him?
. 2. Do your employees receive instructions or training concerning giving out patient information that may violate HIPAA regulations?
. 3. Do you confirm the veracity of the statement Mr. Weigel attributed to your clerk concerning the birth of Trig Palin at your hospital?
. 4. If not, what is the hospital’s position on the question of whether Trig Palin was born at Mat-Su?
. 5. Do you believe Mr. Weigel wrote truthfully about what he alleges happened?
I ask that you answer each question I have posed. If you do not answer each question specifically, I will feel free to write that you “failed to answer” or “choose to ignore” or some similar construction. I am requesting all the above information under relevant Alaska and federal Freedom of Information statutes.
Thank you so much.
Sincerely yours, [etc.]
I wasn’t counting on getting a response, so I wasn’t devastated by the fact that I did not get one. I’m guessing Mr. Sterling passed the letter and article on to the hospital’s legal counsel, who instructed him not to say a word.
But let’s just examine what Mat-Su’s silence here implies. In my first set of questions, I essentially ask Mr. Sterling if he can state that no one connected to the hospital engaged in fraudulent activity on the day Trig was reportedly born. How depressing it must be for a PR flack to not be able to deny wrongdoing by his employer. But I hear his silence loud and clear.
Mr. Sterling’s silence concerning the second set of questions, relating to Weigel, is just as dismaying. The head of PR can’t even defend his people from a charge of gross violation of HIPAA rules, which is what happened if that clerk truly said what Weigel alleges.
Also, I have to say that if Weigel told the truth about what the clerk told him, then I think he got played. He claims he made a cold call, but I simply don’t believe it was totally “cold” – I would bet someone recommended he call the hospital around a certain time, and that the scenario he described then followed a script. (Of course, Weigel could have lied, but why would he do so?)
So, Laura, I am interested in what your readers make of Mat-Su’s role in all this, and of the hospital’s silence to my letter.
One more thing: that letter was not my first effort to get a comment from the hospital. Several months ago, I sent similar questions via a questions box at the hospital’s website; I got no response then either. So, Mr. Grover, for the third time, I am now asking you to respond to the questions raised in this post.