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This Company & Family Failed the New York Times Test

October 26, 2012

By Brian L. Grant MD

The recent fungal meningitis outbreak traced to a Massachusetts-based compound pharmacy is tragic for the many current and potential victims. And it was entirely preventable based upon the reports of major manufacturing breaches.

The New York Times article, “Spotlight Put on Founders of Drug Firm in Outbreak,” illustrates how a company and their family failed the New York Times test.

Years ago I learned the concept of the “New York Times Test”. This imaginary test refers to the importance in business and life of upholding standards of behavior and avoiding adverse actions that might cause one to end up on the cover of that venerable journal.

In other words, when considering an action or omission, one might ask themselves how they would feel if the action or outcome of one’s decision were to land on the cover of the Times. Would one be proud, or running for cover under a cloud of shame and perhaps liability.

This outbreak appears from public accounts to be a failure of leadership by the owners of the company, and a culture internally where good men and women were either unaware of the breach, or if aware (which I suspect must have been the case for at least some), chose to do nothing.

Errors of this magnitude appear systemic and not accidental. And in drug manufacturing and other mission critical endeavors where lives are at stake when there are errors, the results may not be recoverable. One can’t help but wonder what logic permitted these errors and omissions to be practiced.

More facts will undoubtedly develop with future investigations and litigation. And more than one business school lesson will flow from these events.

In the past we at MCN have confronted value breaches in our own industry. These include inconceivably brief exams and routine unnecessary ordering of imaging and other actions that may be expedient and profitable but uncalled for.These and similar acts dishonor the integrity of medicine and the patients who are compelled to attend such examinations.

To our dismay, such behaviors continue in certain settings, lowering the bar of quality and integrity for those involved, and provide cover for those who wish to criticize our industry as a whole.

We at MCN have pledged to not knowingly engage in such actions, call them out when we see them, and walk away from opportunities to follow along. We think it is long overdue for those in health services to remember and hew to their honorable medical roots. A decent living will follow.

It is much easier to act in a way where their integrity is not sacrificed. While short-term profits may take a hit by saying no to short-cuts and actions that don’t reflect the highest values, living and acting based upon such values drives long-term profits, satisfied clients, employees, and shareholders.

Behaving ethically should not be extraordinary or heroic. It should be expected and normal.

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