|Ocala, FL -
November 30, 2012|
Published in The Ocala Star-Banner on Friday, November 30, 2012 at 1:32 p.m.
Health Management Associates, one of the two companies competing for the lease to operate Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, will be the subject of a “60 Minutes” piece Sunday questioning whether the hospital chain was too aggressive in admitting patients to its facilities.
The show’s producers would not comment on the segment, but CBS’s website offers a brief description: “Steve Kroft investigates allegations from doctors that the hospital chain they worked for pressured them to admit patients regardless of their medical needs,” the site says.
In an attempt to head off controversy, officials at HMA held a conference call Friday morning with investors and the media to rebut any notion that there are widespread problems with its admissions.
While HMA executives acknowledge they have not seen the segment and do not know precisely what claims will be made, they confirmed that they did speak to 60 Minutes for the story and were able to infer from the reporters’ questions what sort of allegations would be made.
Alan Levine, senior vice president for HMA, said the questions focused on a hospital in Pennsylvania.
“All told, I was asked extensive questions about whether Health Management has excessive admissions from our emergency department. We do not,” Levine said on the conference call. “Further, we provided 60 Minutes hard data from the government to support it.”
Levine said after 60 Minutes began asking questions, the company hired an outside consultant to review their admissions and that firm found that their admissions were not “out of line with industry standards.”
Levine and HMA officials acknowledged that the company found a problem in the Carlisle, Pa. emergency room more than a year ago but it was not because of excessive admissions. Rather, they said, the hospital experienced a dramatic increase in emergency room visits and did not have enough staffing to handle it. That resulted in long waits and complaints, but executives say the staffing problem was resolved quickly.
The controversy bears watching because HMA is one of two firms vying to take over operations of the 421-bed Munroe Regional Medical Center, the county’s largest hospital.
Munroe, a public hospital owned by the people of Marion County, is currently financially stable but has been steaming steadily toward financial insolvency for years.
Munroe officials and consultants blame the trend on the large amount of charity care the hospital provides to low-income residents and the fact that, as an independent hospital, it is not able to negotiate more favorable reimbursement rates with insurers.
The trustees who oversee the hospital on behalf of the public recently asked voters to approve a tax that would help build up the hospital and ensure its long-term success, but voters rejected the idea.
So now trustees are continuing a year-long quest to find a company to run Munroe profitably.
Both Naples-based HMA and Duke Lifepoint Healthcare have pledged to pay tens of millions of dollars for the right to run Munroe long-term. Both insist they can reverse the hospital’s financial slide -- without cutting services -- largely because their size gives them the ability to bargain for better rates on goods, services and insurance reimbursements.
Jon Kurtz, chairman of the Marion County Hospital District Trustees, said he listened to the hour-long HMA conference call Friday but said the allegations were too vague to draw any conclusions about the company’s fitness to run Munroe.
“If anything,” Kurtz said, “I’m even more intrigued to watch 60 Minutes on Sunday.”