A boost in status

We had an investigative newspaper reporter in our area for many years. He garnered the requisite amount of both praise and scorn that accrues to the most successful in his field. I won’t weigh in on those evaluations. I will just acknowledge the positive effect he had on my self image.

I was working in public affairs at the local medical center, owned and operated by our state. My salary was exactly one-tenth that of the CEO of the hospital. My position was roughly analogous to that of a second lieutenant in the military.

Yet this intrepid reporter promoted me to “honcho.”

The budget relied on patient revenue and whatever the legislature would kick in, plus charitable contributions. Administrative costs common to all good businesses include community relations, in-service training and employee relations. There were some programs associated with these objectives that were, at one time, covered by income from vending machines throughout the medical complex, rather than the patient revenue, tax money and contributions.

This did not escape the notice of our reporter friend. When the story broke, he said these funds were spent on “honchos.” I was a participant in three of the activities he listed: Chamber of Commerce membership, “a public affairs dinner” and a recreational softball team. Suddenly, I was elevated in status. I had never been a honcho before, but I stood a little taller and walked with a spring in my step.

As the second-largest employer in our community (the University being first), it is incumbent on the hospital to be a good corporate citizen. Participating in the Chamber of Commerce seems logical. Community-relations responsibilities within our office were assigned to me. So it made sense for the hospital to cough up the $25 a year it cost for me to be one of the individuals designated to represent it in the chamber.

What the article did not say about the dinner was that it followed an educational session, designed to help us do our jobs better, which we were required to attend outside regular work hours.

The softball team participated in the town’s recreational league. The hospital paid the entry fee. Anyone could be on the team, even players as lousy as I. There were a couple of guys pretty high on the flow chart, but most were much lower. At least one player worked in housekeeping.

After the “scandal” came to light, there were changes. Honcho though I was, I wasn’t privy to exactly how the raked-up muck was cleansed. I do know that the hospital started its own softball league, which I guess cost no money other than buying equipment, renting fields and the hours of staff time required to coordinate it. Community-relations activities continued to include chamber participation, paid for somehow. In the public affairs office, we still had the occasional professional-development session. Since they were still after hours, they still fed us, just not using vending-machine money.

In any case, honcho status had been conferred on me, and I wasn’t going to relinquish it.

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