In the weekly issue of March 1-7, 2005 the MarinScope's five community based newspapers carried a column written by their contributing editor Chris Rooney about 82-year old Sarah Nome's ongoing struggle with Kaiser Permamente.  Court cases are proceeding in Marin County Superior Court regarding her care and the massive bill incurred as a result of her long stay at San Rafael's Kaiser hospital.  Mr. Rooney wrote a sarcastic piece entitled Morons in Office, in the Hospital, on the Highway. Unlike other articles about the case that appeared in newspapers around the country, Mr. Rooney's was unique because it contained the following comments:

"So, while no one seems to have the common sense to either find a place in Marin for Nome to live and mend, or quietly sneak into her room at night and smother her with a pillow, she's racked up more than $1 million in medical costs...... She's in room 502 if anyone wants to drop by with a newspaper -- or a pillow. Anyone seen Million Dollar Baby?

The response to this article was immediate and intense and resulted in Executive Editor Ed Addeo writing and publishing the following front page article entitled Nome Grants Rooney a Humorous Reprieve in the March 22-28, 2005 weekly issue of  MarinScope:

It was the best of days, it was the worst of days. (Sorry, Charlie -- just trying to prove the power of a small-town community newspaper.)

I threw my rumpled fedora on the hat rack that was skinnier than Olive Oyl, put my feet up on the desk, and started nursing a hangover the size of a Nebraska sirloin, when my secretary Effie buzzed in with...

No, wait a minute. Wrong mystery.

Here's a better one.


I was working at home on a Monday morning, our publishing day, hence a light workload, when the phone rang about 11 o'clock. It was Samantha Stess, our new young editor of the Twin Cities Times, one of the five weekly MarinScope community newspapers.

Stess was stressed.

"I just got a call from KGO-TV," Sam said, a hint of panic in her voice. "They're coming over to interview me about the Rooney column. What should I say?"

"Relax ," said I, ever the cool, however crusty, editor. "They'll never take us alive!" Then it hit me. THE ROONEY COLUMN! Omigawd, as Herb Cain would say. The publisher was out of town. It was up to me to explain to 500,000 Bay Area TV viewers why we had put out a contract on a hospitalized 82-year-old lady.


The previous Thursday our contributing editor Chris Rooney, whose column "Around the County" appears on Page 3 in all five papers, had submitted his copy. The column, entitled "Morons in office, in the hospital, on the highway," (3-for-3! A Hall of Fame batting average!) including a reference to one Sarah Nome, the aforementioned bed-ridden octogenarian, who has been in a Kaiser Hospital bed for more than a year, run up more than a million bucks in costs, and can't seem to agree on a residence to which she can be transferred.

In the column, which was my responsibility to edit and approve for publication, Rooney did, in fact, make the references referred to in Mrs. Nome's letter elsewhere printed in this edition, viz., "smother," "pillow," "room 502," and the reference to the file "Million Dollar Baby," -- the end of which we STILL will not reveal to the unattended.


A bit edgy, we thought, right to the brink, but nevertheless obviously tongue-in-cheek and Rooney even added a caveat at the end: "This column doesn't really endorse the killing of frail, sickly old ladies, even if it does save everyone a lot of money in the long run."

We let it run in all five papers. The respective editors had nothing to do with the decision.


I called Mark Mathews, the KGO-TV reporter, explained that Rooney's column was "common" to all editions, but interview only me or Rooney.

Nice call. Rooney was out of town on a medical emergency, the publisher was STILL in Europe and ...who, me?

Finally, Mathews and his KGO crew came to the Marinscope offices, thrilled everyone by pointing the camera everywhere, and that night on camera I explained to Northern California that Rooney's column was, indeed, tongue-in-cheek, that his disclaimer was, indeed, heartfelt, and that, indeed, while the comment might have been distasteful in hindsight there was no harm intended and, indeed, no malice aforethought, as we say in the journalism biz. All this while the full front page of the Twin Cities Times was flashed on-screen, affording a tiny small-town community newspaper $1 million in publicity, and proving once again that said small-town community newspaper can have v. large impact of a v. large geographical area.

Now comes the witty letter from indomitable Mrs. Nome, explaining that she "doesn't really endorse the killing of young, callous, stupid and inexperienced newspaper editors and reporters...." and suggesting that we be rounded up and put into Room 502 to be there when the skulking murderer appears to do the dastardly deed. Mrs. Nome even offers to supply "plenty of pillows."

Rooney is grateful for the reprieve, as am I for being the target of the sobriquet "young."

"I'm glad she's (Nome) laughing about it, and, honestly, her suggestion to smother journalists probably isn't a bad idea at all," he says.

I would say "God bless you," Mrs. Nome, but He already has: not only with a long, fabulous, fulfilling and fun-filled life, but also with an acute sense of humor and a joie de vivre sadly lacking in almost everyone else in this uptight county.

We at MarinScope wish you and Kaiser Permanente Hospital well, may you resolve your differences peacefully and frugally, and may the rumors about the run on pillows at Bed, Bath & Beyond be false indeed.

Sarah Nome's wonderful disposition in the face of such adversity is just one of her special qualities. Her sense of humor and fighting spirit also shine through as she fights for what she believes is right.  Her letter to the editor of the MarinScope newspapers follows:

Nome's rebuttal


I respond to Chris Rooney's "Around the County" editorial in the MarinScope newspapers
(March 1-7) where he writes "while no one seems to have the common sense to...quietly sneak into Nome's room at night and smother her with a pillow... she's in room 502 if anyone wants to drop by with a newspaper -- or a pillow. Anyone seen 'Million Dollar Baby'?"

This writer doesn't really endorse the killing of young, callous, stupid and inexperienced newspaper editors and reporters responsible for the aforementioned column. I do suggest you round them up and put them in room 502 -- at Kaiser Hospital, as you mention in your piece -- to be there with me when the murderer "sneaks into [Nome's] room at night and smothers her with a pillow." Good reporting!

You've got who, what when, where and how -- and plenty of pillows too. See you in 502 for the perfect murder. And, who knows, it might even be cheaper in the long run.

Although I don't "really endorse the killing [of newspaper people] even if it does save everyone a lot of money in the long run," it does make for cleaner, more decent and responsible newspapers in a world so many others continue to live in after certain reporters and editors are gone.

I am happy to have lived a long, fabulous, fulfilling and fun-filled life. Go with God and help create his Kingdom on earth.

Sara Nome
San Rafael Kaiser Permanante

P.S. I am a lifelong citizen on San Anselmo since 1922, but now a little frail and sickly.  I live in the home I was born in 82 years ago.

The MarinScope newspapers received letters from their readers outraged that Chris Rooney would be allowed to write such an article in a free community newspaper.  One man said that such an irresponsible column might influence young people to implement the suggestion Mr. Rooney had so succinctly outlined.  The reader said he resented the fact that MarinScope's newspapers were distributed to people's homes whether they wanted them or not. Another man wrote a bitter letter placing all of the blame for the controversy on the shoulders of 82-year old Sarah Nome but he did not sign his name.

Valerie Nixon, who had also experienced injustice at the hands of the corrupt Marin County court system stated, "I cannot believe that this article by Chris Rooney would be seen by others at the MarinScope newspapers and not rejected as a domestic terrorist plot. Has this article made Kaiser look better? Has this article put Ms. Nome in more danger than before? What were you thinking?"

This reporter also wondered what they had been thinking?  What were the publisher, executor editor and Chris Rooney thinking?  I asked and tried to answer that question in an article entitled The Press Lays out a Terrorist Plan to Kill 82-year-old Sarah Nome published on on March 8, 2005. (Click.) Apparently that article prompted someone at MarinScope Inc. to read some of my "columns." Then at 2:24 AM yesterday morning that individual sent me the following email:

----- Original Message -----

From: "Marin Scope Newspapers, inc." [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Sent: Wednesday, March 23, 2005 2:14 AM

This is an excerpt from one of your columns: "It is a simple exercise to do comprehensive and complete research and it does not take a great deal of effort."

I laughed after I read that because I skimmed through a few of your pieces and it was all propagandist nonsense. I don't know if you truly try to conduct comprehensive research, but you certainly don't use it when you write. I hope you never try to sell yourself as a journalist, because accuracy and honesty and balance are things you seemingly do not grasp.

Like the man who placed all the blame for the controversy on Sarah Nome, the early morning emailer lacked the lower anatomy to sign his name and accept responsibility for his actions.  It took very little research to discover that the return email address belonged to contributing editor Chris Rooney.  I called MarinScope's Executive Editor Ed Addeo and had a pleasant, brief conversation with him. 
I suggested that MarinScope might want to investigate and report on the very important issues raised by the struggle of wills between Kaiser Permanente and Sarah Nome.  Some of these issues are:

1) The horrendous conflicts of interest exhibited by the three Marin County judges on the Nome cases: Michael Buck Dufficy, Lynn Duryee, and John A. Sutro. This requires understanding and demanding compliance with the California Fair Political Practices Act (FPPC) and obtaining the judges'  FPPC Forms 700 from Evelyn in Room 116 at the Marin County Courthouse. These forms detail the judges' personal holdings and the (election) Committee Campaign Statements for those judges who have run for re-election such as Judge Dufficy.  I also suggested that Mr. Addeo might want to publish a side bar detailing the tremendous wealth of these judges and compare it with the total wealth of the Marin County's senior citizens whose entire life estates might be jeopardized by their rulings.

2) The insistence of Kaiser Permanente in its legal motions and by Judge Sutro's in his sua sponte order that Sarah Nome be appointed a conservator in spite of the fact that Kaiser's own psychiatrists have stated that Ms. Nome has no diagnosis of mental illness.  This is important because once a conservator is appointed the patient loses any control over lawsuits and/or arbitrations for damages to her health causing her present condition that might have occurred as the direct result of previous bad medical care provided by Kaiser or its agents in the past. The conservator can also bring lawsuits against others in the patient's stead including, but not limited to, Ms. Nome's own children.  A conservator can also sign over the patient's property to whomever he deems appropriate, if the court approves.

4)  The connections between the Kaiser/Nome case and the purpose it will serve as a test case for such issues as (a) California Governor Schwarzennegger's new emergency rule to more aggressively recover Medi-cal expenses from the "life estates" of the deceased;  (b) the recently passed bankruptcy laws that curtail the ability of seniors to dismiss massive medical bills in a personal bankruptcy; and (c) the Republicans' and the Democrats' attempt to unlock the sacred box of social security.

It is topics such as the preceding that caused the national video and printed media to be parked outside
Judge Sutro's door during the hearing this last Monday regarding a stay of eviction pending the conditional appointment of a conservator  for Sarah Nome.  The massive media coverage is not taking place just to cover a macabre column in the Marinscope newspapers about murdering an elderly patient by smothering her with a pillow.  It is doubtful that KGO-TV and reporter Mark Mathews would have "thrilled everyone by pointing the camera everywhere" in the offices of MarinScope if there had not been some very serious issues behind a very vicious column.

There is a saying born in Hollywood that there is no such thing as "bad publicity".  Ed Addeo might want to justify his executive decision to run Rooney's article to his publisher Dr. Vijay Mallya.  Perhaps that is why he wrote, "All this while the full front page of the Twin Cities Times was flashed on-screen, affording a tiny small-town community newspaper $1 million in publicity...."   I am certain that Dr. Mallya would be much prefer the MarinScope newspaper chain win a Pulitzer like that tiny community newspaper the Point Reyes Lighthouse did in 1979 for their outstanding coverage on Synanon. (Click.)  It would probably make the entire MarinScope family and its readership fell better about their community newspapers. 

Virginia McCullough © 3/24/05


Click.  OPEN LETTER TO LARRY MEREDITH, Director of the Marin County Health and Human Services Administration by Virginia McCullough