Eideard

Investigation of hospital chain finds unneeded cardiac procedures performed on patients

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In the summer of 2010, a troubling letter reached the chief ethics officer of the hospital giant HCA, written by a former nurse at one of the company’s hospitals in Florida…In a follow-up interview, the nurse said a doctor at the Lawnwood Regional Medical Center, in the small coastal city of Fort Pierce, had been performing heart procedures on patients who did not need them, putting their lives at risk…

In less than two months, an internal investigation by HCA concluded the nurse was right…

The nurse, C. T. Tomlinson, didn’t have his contract renewed by HCA. And the company ethics officer, Stephen Johnson, acknowledged this was in retaliation for his complaints. Anyone surprised?

HCA, the largest for-profit hospital chain in the United States with 163 facilities, had uncovered evidence as far back as 2002 and as recently as late 2010 showing that some cardiologists at several of its hospitals in Florida were unable to justify many of the procedures they were performing. Those hospitals included the Cedars Medical Center in Miami, which the company no longer owns, and the Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point. In some cases, the doctors made misleading statements in medical records that made it appear the procedures were necessary, according to internal reports…

At Lawnwood, where an invasive diagnostic test known as a cardiac catheterization is performed, about half the procedures, or 1,200, were determined to have been done on patients without significant heart disease, according to a confidential 2010 review…

In a recent statement, HCA declined to provide evidence that it had alerted Medicare, state Medicaid or private insurers of its findings, or reimbursed them for any of the procedures that the company later deemed unnecessary, as required by law…HCA also declined to show that it had ever notified patients, who might have been entitled to compensation from the hospital for any harm…

And some doctors accused in the reviews of performing unnecessary procedures are still practicing at HCA hospitals…

HCA denies its decisions at these hospitals were motivated by financial considerations, blah, blah, blah

…In 2000, the company reached one of a series of settlements involving a huge Medicare fraud case with the Justice Department that would eventually come to $1.7 billion in fines and repayments. The accusations, which primarily involved overbilling, occurred when Rick Scott, now the governor of Florida, was the company’s chief executive. He was removed from the post by the board but was never personally accused of wrongdoing…

RTFA. Cardiology makes a lot of money for HCA. Overbilling, unnecessary procedures are part of what is driving the public perception of American healthcare down to the level of lawyers and politicians.

It’s a long article filled with tales that now seem to be part of daily life in our tawdry economy. Giant corporation is fined for sleazy practices – and a few years later the same accusations appear in a different portion of their business model. The whistleblower is fired. Little or nothing is done to defend the whistleblower or the patients.

Medicare is screwed, Medicaid is screwed. Taxpayers are screwed and Hospital Corporation of America increases their profits at our expense. The stock market is happy and all’s right with the world.

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