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Models in Lab Coats, Short Skirts Hired to Solicit Mouth Swabs

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DNA ECONOMICS
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A young man is at the mall doing his holiday shopping for his mother or girlfriend when he's stopped by a striking young woman in high heels, a lab coat, and a skirt that wouldn't pass the Catholic school test.

"Do you want to be a hero?” she asks, head tilted.

What are the chances that this man is walking away without at least hearing more about what he's being asked to do -- that is, allow a real specialist (not the person he's speaking to) to swab the inside of his cheek and put him on the list of potential bone marrow donors for a local hospital. The fee, he's told, will be about $100 and will be sent to his insurance company.

So goes the scenario that has been playing out recently in New England malls and baseball games, according to a new investigation by the New Hampshire attorney general's office.

The state is examining the marketing and billing practices of a non-profit registry called Caitlin Raymond International, a subsidiary of UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. The registry had been hiring models from a still-unnamed Boston agency to help recruit would-be donors in public places. According to James T. Boffetti, the state’s senior assistant attorney general, the registry had hired models based on their photographs and had given them “explicit instructions” to wear heels and short skirts. (Curiously some of the models also wore "electric blue wigs.")

Oh, and that $100 fee charged to insurance companies actually came to $4,300 per test. Caitlin Raymond was paying the model agency $60,000 per week for its services. There's been no word yet on the exact returns made for the investment, though prosecutors say that thousands of people in New Hampshire appear to have said "Ahh" for the few seconds it takes to get tested. In a statement, UMass Memorial said it had recruited more than 185,000 potential donors in New England using the models.

The hospital has defended its actions, saying its goal was to get "the public acquainted with this life-saving effort." No doubt, when it comes to public awareness, the bone-marrow people have nothing on the blood-bank people.

But baiting men with young women who likely work night shifts vamping it up behind free-sample vodka booths? It makes the charity muggers business -- with its army of roaming ragtag kids -- look saintly.

Want to do the right thing? Here's a link to the National Bone Marrow Donor Program. Or stop by a booth at your local mall if you see one; in many states, regular people are standing by in modest outfits and flats. Caitlin Raymond, too, has stopped hiring the models.
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