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Spin Doctors

As the fallout continues to drift from Northridge Hospital Medical Center's denying a pregnant woman an epidural because she couldn't pay cash for it, the hospital industry's regional trade organization has tried hard to spin the controversy off on the anesthesiologists.

In a June 16 memo obtained by Offbeat, Brian Greene, director of communications for the Healthcare Association of Southern California (HASC), instructs the group's members to refuse comment and refer reporters instead to the whipping boys and girls at the California Society of Anesthesiology (CSA).

In the memo, Greene offers these words of leadership to the organization's 290 hospitals (including both for-profit and not-for-profit) and physician groups: "Because this is a physician/anesthesiologist issue and not a hospital issue, HASC will not provide comment to the media on this issue. Commenting on this issue will simply fuel the media further as it continues reporting on this story." Sounds like a car dealer saying your service policy is between you and the mechanic - the dealer just provides the service bays.

The finger-pointing mildly amused Barbara Baldwin, executive director of the CSA, who chuckled slightly when told of the memo and said it wasn't too surprising. Baldwin was on the job the day the story broke, so she's used to odd turns in rough weather.

"It probably would have been a good idea if they had contacted us first," she says. "In the three months I've been here, we haven't had any real contact with HASC. It would be nice if we could at least be on the same page."

What might be even nicer is an industry that's ready to accept its share of the responsibility.

- Mark Cromer

Trial Bonds

One of the odder political relationships of the year was on display last week at the bitter trial currently being fought over City Councilman Richard Alatorre's fitness as a guardian for his 10-year-old niece.

While much of the courtroom drama has centered on the exchanges between Alatorre and attorneys, a subplot has been brewing in the gallery, where the councilman's former secretary and ex-paramour Linda Ward has struck up a close friendship with another Alatorre foe, Amelia Earnest. You may remember Earnest as the MTA whistle blower profiled in these pages a few weeks ago. She was dismissed from the troubled agency in large part because of her efforts to protect public money from, among others, "Friends of Richard."

The latest twist in this Eastside telenovela has Earnest and Ward finding a common bond. The two have been regularly meeting over drinks and dinner for months, and even traveled to Cancun on vacation. One guess as to their main topic of conversation.

Alatorre can at least be flattered that he is never far from their thoughts. The councilman's sex life (including reviews of his, um, performance) seems to be a source of enduring fascination to the gal pals, as have Alatorre's other appetites, for deal making and drugs.

And now a third foe has joined their ranks. Citizen watchdog John Walsh was recently seen escorting Ward and Earnest to the courthouse. Walsh has already annoyed Alatorre's friends at the MTA, where his past antics included showing up at a meeting with piss cups, demanding drug tests for board members.

If Alatorre hasn't appeared rankled by this cavalcade of antagonists, perhaps it's because he's been focusing on someone else. The councilman seems to be saving his anger for Ricardo Torres, the ambitious young attorney representing Henry Lozano, a longtime Alatorre rival who only recently claimed paternity of the girl. A "piece of shit" is one of the more printable things Alatorre called the young attorney. At another point in the trial, the councilman got up in Torres' face and told him to "go straight to hell."

-Sam Gideon Anson

Paper Trails

As if L.A.'s homeless didn't have enough to worry about, it now appears any chance of working out a settlement between the city's two homeless-run newspapers may take months. This after a meeting last week between The Big Issue and Making Changes ended in a curbside yelling match. "It's a wonder you didn't hear it," says Ron Taylor, a homeless activist who argued with a Big Issue representative after negotiations in Santa Monica.

At the center of this nasty little publishing battle is which weekly will lay claim to Westsiders' generous hearts and deep pockets.

Problems began shortly after The Big Issue, a London-based weekly, arrived in Los Angeles and set up shop. Worried over a possible conflict, Making Changes, a smaller, locally based paper, called for a meeting to broker a deal that would carve out distribution boundaries for each publication. Both sides agreed that the new kid on the block would remain out of the Westside. The big question now is, where does the Westside begin? This April, publishers of The Big Issue had an apparent change of heart and began selling on the Westside in violation of the agreement. The result was a near brawl. "There was fighting among vendors, and it almost came to blows," says Steve Bonk, a former homeless Making Changes writer who, like others, wonders exactly how The Big Issue is helping the homeless.

Nearly five months after the bitter turf war began, the only thing both sides can agree upon is to throw out the previous agreement and meet next month to discuss a new deal.

And we thought only big-city dailies got down and dirty.

-Aaron M. Fontana


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