Ronald Wise, the longtime spokesman and vice president for public relations at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, has left the center to become a vice president at the as-yet-unnamed health care company being formed by Dr. Bernard Salick.

Wise was at Cedars-Sinai for 13 years and served as the medical center's public face during its treatment of such celebrities as Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor.

"Calls have started to come in with a lot of people asking why," Wise said of his departure. "I've known Bernard Salick for about 12 years and had the opportunity to watch the kind of care that he is dedicated to delivering. The man is a visionary, no doubt about it and I felt I wanted to be a part of it."

Cedars-Sinai was home to the first of a string of 24-hour cancer and specialty treatment clinics Salick Health Care Inc. opened across the country in the 1980s and '90s. Salick left the company earlier this month after the British drug firm Zeneca Group PLC purchased the remaining 50 percent of Salick Health Care it didn't already own.

Salick has said he intends to form a new global health care company that would compete with his namesake firm, and he is in the process of raising funds for it.

Wise will serve at the new company as vice president for corporate communications and marketing.

Shareholders file suit

Former shareholders of FHP International Corp. have filed a class-action lawsuit against former company officials for allegedly undervaluing assets in its February merger with Pacificare Health Systems Inc.

The lawsuit alleges that former FHP officials, including top members of FHP's board of directors and executives at its Talbert Medical Management Corp., intentionally undervalued Talbert in the merger with PacifiCare. Since the deal involved FHP shareholders getting shares in the new organization, the alleged undervaluation is said to have resulted in shareholders being short-changed millions of dollars in shares.

PacifiCare. "It involves former FHP people, not us," said PacifiCare spokeswoman Cheryl Brady.

The lawsuit seeks to bar the former executives from holding positions at Talbert, and unspecified damages resulting from the alleged undervaluing.

Attorneys at Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro LLP, which is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, were unavailable for comment.

SCAN rethinks changes

Long Beach-based SCAN Health Plan has asked the California Department of Corporations to put the brakes on its request for permission to convert from non-profit to for-profit status.

The 13,000-member SCAN had filed for conversion last November, citing the growing difficulty that small, non-profit HMOs have competing with their larger, for-profit colleagues.

SCAN officials had hoped the conversion would help them raise capital through a stock offering, the proceeds from which would be used to better market their plan.

"The reality in the L.A. market is that, to continue our unique mission, we have to grow," said SCAN Vice President Stuart Byer.

The Department of Corporations responded in February to SCAN's initial filing with a letter expressing concerns about the proposed collaboration between the converted HMO and its non-profit foundation. HMOs that convert to for-profit status are required to establish independent, non-profit foundations with endowments equal to the assets of the previously non-profit organization.

The Department of Corporations was concerned that the foundation would not be fully independent from the HMO when making decisions on how to spend its endowment, Byer said.

The department also asked for more data on SCAN's operations, Byer said, which the HMO's board of directors wanted more time to compile. "The board felt they didn't want to be bound in their due diligence by any time frame," he said.

SCAN was one of four original "social" HMOs, also known as SHMOs, authorized by Congress in the early 1980s to provide expanded benefits to Medicare recipients.

In addition to traditional medical and dental care, the small HMO offers its members homemaker services, transportation to and from medical appointments, "meals-on-wheels" services and limited home nursing care, all meant to keep the elderly living in their own homes and out of institutions.

SCAN whose 13,000 members reside in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties was the first of the so-called SHMOs to seek conversion to for-profit status.

Byer said SCAN will likely ask the Department of Corporations to lift the suspension of its application in the coming months. "We will likely revive the filing," Byer said. "If we'd wanted to dump the deal, we would have withdrawn the filing, not suspended it."

AIDS treatment partners

Sylmar-based MiniMed Inc. and Trimeris Inc. of North Carolina have penned a deal to jointly develop an AIDS drug and drug delivery system.

Trimeris is currently in laboratory testing of Pentafuside, a compound designed to treat HIV infection. MiniMed will make a drug infusion pump that delivers the medicine to a patient in a continual, steady flow, instead of through daily pills or injections.

The pump technology, which MiniMed developed originally for diabetes treatment, would help ease the regimental burden on AIDS patients.

"HIV patients must comply with very strict schedules taking their anti-viral medications," said Trimeris CEO Ross Johnson. MiniMed's infusion pump "should significantly enhance both patient compliance and therapeutic benefit," he said.

Fuzzy vision not funny

Episodes of blurred vision have a greater impact on quality of life than incontinence and even chronic headaches, say researchers at the University of Southern California School of Medicine.

The USC researchers studied histories of more than 1,500 people under 65 suffering from chronic ailments like depression, diabetes, indigestion and hypertension. The patients were asked to rank symptoms such as blurred vision, incontinence, heart palpitations and shortness of breath by how detrimental they were to their daily functioning.

Among all symptoms, only shortness of breath was associated with greater "decrements in functioning" and well-being than blurred vision, the researchers found.

"The loss of vision has been and remains one of the most feared chronic disabilities among the U.S. public," affecting emotional well-being, social functioning, energy levels and general health, the researchers wrote of their findings.

Ben Sullivan is a reporter for the Los Angeles Business Journal and covers the health care industry.

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