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Article did a disservice to a caring company

This is in reply to an article in the business section of the Sunday, July 14, issue of the Times titled "Mr. Fixit rescues drowning companies," by Sarah Cohen, Times staff writer.

I have had a working relationship with First American Home Care since 1990, and I must say that I felt quite ill as to the tone and content of this article. I am tired of reading all the eye-catching headlines, like "Guilty of Medicare Fraud" and the controversies over "Vidalia Onions" and "Mail Fraud."

As a writer in a regionalized paper, I would think Ms. Cohen would pose a position that would in some way benefit or inform the area in which she resides. I found her article quite to the contrary.

I found no comment as to the extraordinary quality of health care that First American provides in the Tampa Bay area alone, the high standards of care and education they require for their workers, the compassionate, family-oriented stance they promote in their motto, "Keeping Families Together," or the off-hour volunteer projects and benefits employees coordinate in local areas, such as Habitat for Humanity, March of Dimes drives and Dress-Down for Cancer Society days.

I read of no comments that commend the hundreds of nurses and therapists in the Tampa Bay area alone who trek out to the homes of the needy, the immobile, and the ill; located in Tampa Bay, I would think one would be most inclined to comment on the lifestyles and services for the elderly.

I know of nurses who drive boats to clients' homes in the Everglades because there are no roads, and ones who use skimobiles in snow storms and blizzards in Michigan to care for patients because they know if they don't make it there, no one will. I hear of nurses and aides who spend countless hours of their own time with patients who, during their last days, need a hand to hold or a friendly face to read to them as they drift off.

This, my friend, is First American, and it's not because of a new CEO or for fear they would vanish after conviction of fraud; it's always been this way because of the values that the founder instilled from the beginning. In all my years, I have never come across a company so dedicated to providing for others whether they get paid for it or not _ the company doesn't make a profit off Medicare or Medicaid cases; in fact, it loses money.

Not in my many years of involvement with First American have I ever seen any fraudulent or altered notes; an employee would be fired on the spot and reported to the State Board of Nursing if found falsifying information or forging doctors' orders _ that's just not the way they work. After all, First American is accredited by Joint Commission (with commendation in some areas), which holds very high standards of documentation and clinical practice.

Any allegations of convictions presented to First American, in my eyes, are clearly a decade-old vendetta against the former CEO, where a catch-22 was inevitable because of the CEO's determination (and American right) to legally build the largest company in his business and because of his views to practice what Medicare guidelines would never disallow in the past. Medicare guidelines only tell you what you can do; they don't identify what you can't do.

This is where the spotlight should be: revamping Medicare guidelines to more clearly identify policies and procedures, as well as spending time catching the heartless criminals who work out of basements selling cheap copies of reclining chairs to the vulnerable and billing Medicare tens of thousands of dollars for care that is never rendered, under doctors' names that don't even exist.

When I have visited First American offices, including the corporate headquarters, I have never seen any BMWs, maid services or other lavish extras. On the contrary, I have always seen and heard discussion of cost containment, budget-conscious travel accommodations and expense limits. All other energies are placed toward employee training, high expectations in management styles and quality assurance for patient care.

My defensiveness is apparent as I see the compassion and integrity placed forth by the field workers, regional administration and upper management, who have forever been dead-set on providing superlative quality care while aggressively cutting costs. I find myself constantly defending a company whose sole purpose, presented by the former CEO, is to care and provide for the ill and the elderly. All else is secondary.

Thank you for your time.

_ Steven A. Gonzalez