MU Health Care has for the second time in six months revised its policy on drug companies and medical supply vendors paying for promotional lunches for doctors at its hospitals and facilities.
The latest change was enacted after Columbia caterers complained about the unfairness of the initial policy change. The new policy will go into effect at the beginning of next year, said Dan Kopp, chief medical officer at University Hospital.
Motive behind decision
MU Health Care, which includes University Hospital, Columbia Regional, Ellis Fischel, Missouri Rehabilitation Center and several clinics, announced a policy in April that restricted caterers from providing food at an event paid for by a company’s sales representative.
Maurice Manring, University of Missouri Health Care spokesman, said the concern was that the lunches could be perceived as “taking something of value” from drug companies and medical supply vendors.
The change was made in an effort to help ensure MU Health Care was in compliance with a section of federal law that could be interpreted as prohibiting such transactions, Manring said.
He said he expects other hospitals to bar such transactions in the future. Boone Hospital began following a similar policy within the last year, said Lynn Hostetler, director of communications at Boone Hospital.
At University Hospital, however, the policy change did not include Main Street Cafe, which is located in the hospital and is owned by MU.
Manring said the hospital was trying to “understand what was going on in the business” by monitoring which companies were paying for the lunches and which doctors were attending them.
“It raised the appearance of us wanting all companies to buy food from here and that was not our intention,” Manring said.
The policy change angered Columbia caterers who had grown accustomed to regularly providing the lunches. Paul Conover, manager at Chevy’s, said his deliveries to the hospital had fallen by 40 percent a month since April.
Defining the caterers
Other caterers were equally upset that Main Street was allowed to continue catering lunches.
“We were affected by the ban on outside vendors extremely so, and a lot of others have been, too,” said Anita Griggs, owner of Anita’s Catering.
Griggs said that since April, her company has been called when Main Street couldn’t handle an order for catering at the hospital.
After such complaints, Kopp modified the policy in early November to state that no caterer, including Main Street, could provide such lunches.
Jennifer Smith, catering supervisor for Main Street, said she received a memo about the new policy and that the cafe has not catered a lunch at the hospital since the end of October. She also said as far as she knew, the cafe did not cater any events for drug representatives over the summer.
But it appears the hospital’s new policy did not curb the promotional lunches.
Conover said his restaurant had catered a pharmaceutical lunch at University Hospital as recently as the past two weeks. Francisco Nula, co-owner of Dali’s, said that his restaurant had catered a similar lunch in the third week of November.
Abiding by the policy
Kopp said it will take time for everyone to adhere to the new policy.
“It takes time for people to adjust and it’s not likely this change was as high a priority as many of the other major changes going on here at MU Health Care,” he said. “The realization the policy wasn’t being followed in all cases, however, is what prompted further review and the decision to further revise it.”
John Beverstein, owner of Heavenly Ham and president of the Missouri Restaurant Association, said he’s happy that the university’s policy is now fair to all caterers.
“At least it’s a uniform policy now, and not discriminatory against us,” he said.