Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
Hospital Fired All Employees
All employees of two community hospitals in Missouri were fired in early September, according to Kaiser Health News.
In March, owner Noble Health suspended all services and later furloughed 181 employees from Audrain Community Hospital and nearby Callaway Community Hospital, KHN reported. Noble was reportedly struggling with “staggering debt,” a dozen lawsuits, and two federal investigations.
So in April, the company made a deal with Platinum Neighbors, an affiliate of Platinum Health Systems, to sell both hospitals for “$2 and a stock transfer to Platinum,” according to KHN.
In June, Platinum asked Missouri officials to extend the deadline to re-open the hospitals until September 21, and last week asked for another extension.
Cory Countryman, the president of Platinum Health Systems, confirmed to KHN that the remaining hospital staff had been terminated, and said that they “are working with multiple partners to reopen the hospitals.” KHN reported that this might involve a new owner, but that many former employees told KHN that so much damage had already been done.
Tonya Linthacum, NP, who worked at Audrain for more than two decades, posted on LinkedIn that the failure of Noble to save the hospital “destroyed a lot of people’s lives and livelihoods.”
Hospital Chain Profits Off Poor Neighborhood
Non-profit health system Bon Secours Mercy Health has made millions of dollars in profit from a hospital located in a poor, predominantly minority neighborhood, according to a report from the New York Times.
Richmond Community Hospital suffers from a severe lack of resources and medical staff, according to the Times. It does not employ kidney or lung specialists. Its MRI machine was out of service for 7 weeks over the summer. It does not operate a maternity ward, and it closed its ICU in 2017.
Despite this austere operation, the hospital generates approximately $100 million a year, making it the most profitable hospital in the state, according to the Times.
Its ability to turn such a profit lies with a federal program designed to allow under-resourced neighborhoods to buy prescription drugs at significantly discounted rates while still charging insurers the full price. This strategy was revealed to the Times by two former executives of the hospital.
While the program was originally created to allow hospitals to reinvest the money back into the facilities to improve care for poorer patients, the health system has been slashing services at the community hospital in Richmond and investing that money into the city’s wealthier, white neighborhoods, according to the report.
The report was based on interviews the Times conducted with 20 former executives, doctors, and nurses. One doctor, Lucas English, MD, who worked at the hospital until 2018, told the Times that Bon Secours Mercy Health was “basically laundering money through this poor hospital to its wealthy outposts.”
Long COVID Forces ME/CFS Reckoning
Doctors who specialize in managing patients with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) number in the dozens, but the knowledge of this small collection of disease experts may be crucial to treating millions of patients with long COVID, according to a report from The Atlantic.
ME/CFS is estimated to affect between 836,000 and 2.5 million people in the U.S., but about 90% of those individuals are never diagnosed, according to the article. The piece argues that this stems from a lack of knowledge and familiarity with the disease across the medical community, which leads to missed diagnoses from a belief that these patient’s symptoms are merely psychosomatic.
Long COVID has brought new urgency to the fight to legitimize the condition, as some believe long COVID is “effectively ME/CFS by another name.”
Studies suggest that between 5% and 27% of people who are infected with a pathogen such as the Epstein-Barr virus develop ME/CFS, according to the report. If the same proportion of people who were infected with SARS-CoV-2 develop this condition, it would have effectively doubled the number of patients suffering with ME/CFS over the past 3 years, according to The Atlantic.
Beth Pollack, a scientist at MIT who studies complex chronic illnesses, told The Atlantic that the U.S. is “adding an immense volume of patients to an already dysfunctional and overburdened system.”