‘Who’s going to take care of these people?’

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/national/wp/2019/05/11/feature/whos-going-to-take-care-of-these-people/?utm_campaign=Issue:%202019-05-13%20Healthcare%20Dive%20%5Bissue:20860%5D&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_term=.32a0834177a0

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The hospital had already transferred out most of its patients and lost half its staff when the CEO called a meeting to take inventory of what was left. Employees crammed into Tina Steele’s office at Fairfax Community Hospital, where the air conditioning was no longer working and the computer software had just been shut off for nonpayment.

“I want to start with good news,” Steele said, and she told them a food bank would make deliveries to the hospital and Dollar General would donate office supplies.

“So how desperate are we?” one employee asked. “How much money do we have in the bank?”

“Somewhere around $12,000,” Steele said.

“And how long will that last us?”

“Under normal circumstances?” Steele asked. She looked down at a chart on her desk and ran calculations in her head. “Probably a few hours,” she said. “Maybe a day at most.”

The staff had been fending off closure hour by hour for the past several months, ever since debt for the 15-bed hospital surpassed $1 million and its outside ownership group entered into bankruptcy, beginning a crisis in Fairfax that is becoming familiar across much of rural America. More than 100 of the country’s remote hospitals have gone broke and then closed in the past decade, turning some of the most impoverished parts of the United States into what experts now call “health-hazard zones,” and Fairfax was on the verge of becoming the latest. The emergency room was down to its final four tanks of oxygen. The nursing staff was out of basic supplies such as snakebite antivenin and strep tests. Hospital employees had not received paychecks for the past 11 weeks and counting.

The only reason the hospital had been able to stay open at all was that about 30 employees continued showing up to work without pay, increasing their hours to fill empty shifts and essentially donating time to the hospital, understanding what was at stake. Some of them had been born or had given birth at Fairfax Community. Several others had been stabilized and treated in the emergency room after heart attacks or accidents. There was no other hospital within 30 miles of two-lane roads and prairie in sprawling Osage County, which meant Fairfax Community was the only lifeline in a part of the country that increasingly needed rescuing.

“If we aren’t open, where do these people go?” asked a physician assistant, thinking about the dozens of patients he treated each month in the ER, including some in critical condition after drug overdoses, falls from horses, oil field disasters or car crashes.

“They’ll go to the cemetery,” another employee said. “If we’re not here, these people don’t have time. They’ll die along with this hospital.”

“We have no supplies,” Steele said. “We have nothing. How much longer can we provide quality care?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

As emergencies rise across rural America, a hospital fights for its lifeAs emergencies rise across rural America, a hospital fights for its life

 

When Hospitals Merge to Save Money, Patients Often Pay More

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California’s Verity system files bankruptcy, faces $175M in annual losses

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/californias-verity-system-files-bankruptcy-faces-175m-in-annual-losses/531524/

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Dive Brief:

California-based Verity Health System filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy late last week. The nonprofit operator blamed ongoing losses and debt, along with aging infrastructure and an inability to renegotiate contracts, for its tenuous operating position. The system secured debtor financing of up to $185 million, and plans to keep its six hospitals open during the bankruptcy proceedings.

The Friday filing follows a statement in July noting that Verity was exploring different avenues to pull the system out of its slump, including the potential sale of some or all of its hospitals and other facilities.

Last year, billionaire investor and entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong purchased Integrity Healthcare, the company that manages Verity, with the intent to revitalize the system and upgrade its technology while continuing to serve lower-income populations. Yet, “after years of investment to assist in improving cash flow and operations, Verity’s losses continue to amount to approximately $175 million annually on a cash flow basis,” and more than $1 billion overall, Verity CEO Richard Adcock said in the company’s bankruptcy announcement.

Dive Insight:

The company has been struggling for a while and can “no longer swim against the tide” of its operating reality, which includes a legacy burden of more than a billion dollars of bond debt and unfunded pension liabilities, an inability to renegotiate burdensome contracts, the continuing need for significant capital expenditures for seismic obligations and aging infrastructure,” Adcock said.

Verity’s problems come in an caustic environment for U.S. hospitals, many of which are suffering from costs that are rising faster than revenues. Credit rating agency Moody’s warned just last week that the nonprofit provider industry was on an “unsustainable path.”

A recent MorganStanley analysis found that about 18% of American hospitals were at risk of closure or performing weakly, a high figure in historical context. Only 2.5% of hospitals closed over the past five years, yet Moody’s estimated 8% of the 6,000 hospitals studied were apt to close their doors. Additionally, more nonprofit hospitals suffered credit downgrades in 2017, and Moody’s revised its outlook for the hospital sector from stable to negative.

But it’s not only industry pressure that’s causing Verity to fold. Another burden is the management of Soon-Shiong, who’s been hit with backlash for the way he runs his businesses and methods.

The South Africa-born surgeon and investor purchased the hospitals in July 2017, following a 2015 acquisition by New York hedge fund BlueMountain Capital Management. The system had struggled financially for years and needed the influx of cash both buys gave it.

“There’s going to be a huge capital need,” Soon-Shiong said at the time. “There’s been little investment because these hospitals could not afford it.” He said he planned to bring in new equipment and technology, along with expanded oncology, transplant, cardiology and orthopaedic services. Through his company NantWorks, Soon-Shiong funneled more than $300 million into the system within the year, but Verity’s losses continued to mount.

At the time of the acquisition, Soon-Shiong, who has founded and sold multiple biotech companies and now owns a stake in the Los Angeles Times and L.A. Lakers, heralded the charity work done by the hospital, but said the restructuring was “inevitable” due to years of underinvestment.
Touted plans to revitalize the flagging hospital system didn’t pan out, and some of Soon-Shiong’s critics say it was intentional.

“It has become crystal clear by the bankruptcy announcement that he virtually had no intention of keeping these hospitals open and to continue to serve the poor,” San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa told news outlets following the announcement.

Labor unions are similarly displeased. SEIU-UHW representative David Miller reportedly said “there were other paths out of this” and that it’s a “very destructive approach,” as the bankruptcy filing could put employee pensions at risk.

But in the press release, Adcock said the bankruptcy filing was the best thing for all involved, and told Reuters that the 1,650-bed, 6,000-employee company has already received interest from more than 100 parties. Potential suitors include large national operators. Any sales will now be supervised by the bankruptcy court and approved by regulators

 

 

450 hospitals at risk of potential closure, Morgan Stanley analysis finds

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-21/hospitals-are-getting-eaten-away-by-market-trends-analysts-say

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More than 15 percent of U.S. hospitals have weak financial metrics or are at risk of potential closure, according to Business Insider, which cited a recent report from Morgan Stanley.

Morgan Stanley analyzed data from more than 6,000 hospitals and found 600 of the hospitals were “weak” based on criteria for margins for earnings before interest and other items, occupancy and revenue, according to Bloomberg. The analysis revealed another 450 hospitals were at risk of potential closure, according to Business Insider

Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kansas, Tennessee and Pennsylvania had the highest concentration of hospitals in the “at risk” pool, according to the report.

Industry M&A may be no savior as the pace of hospital closures, particularly in hard-to-reach rural areas, seems poised to accelerate.

Hospitals have been closing at a rate of about 30 a year, according to the American Hospital Association, and patients living far from major cities may be left with even fewer hospital choices as insurers push them toward online providers like Teladoc Inc. and clinics such as CVS Health Corp’s MinuteClinic.

Morgan Stanley analysts led by Vikram Malhotra looked at data from roughly 6,000 U.S. private and public hospitals and concluded eight percent are at risk of closing; another 10 percent are considered “weak.” The firm defined weak hospitals based on criteria for margins for earnings before interest and other items, occupancy and revenue. The “at risk” group was defined by capital expenditures and efficiency, among others.

The next year to 18 months should see an increase in shut downs, Malhotra said in a phone interview.

The risks are coming following years of mergers and acquisitions. The most recent deal saw Apollo Global Management LLC swallowing rural hospital chain LifePoint Health Inc. for $5.6 billion last month. Apollo declined to comment on the deal; LifePoint has until Aug. 22 to solicit other offers. Consolidation among other health-care players, such as CVS’s planned takeover of insurer Aetna Inc., could also pressure hospitals as payers push patients toward outpatient services.

There are already a lot of hospitals with high negative margins, consultancy Veda Partners health care policy analyst Spencer Perlman said, and that’s going to become unsustainable. Rural hospitals with a smaller footprint may have less room to negotiate rates with managed care companies and are often hobbled by more older and poorer patients.

Also wearing away at margins are technological improvements that allow patients to get more surgeries and imaging done outside of the hospital. They are also likely to be forced to pay more to attract and retain doctors in key areas, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Jason McGorman said.

They “are getting eaten alive from these market trends,” Perlman cautioned.

Future M&A options could be too late — buyers may hesitate as debt laden operators like Community Health Systems Inc. and Tenet Healthcare Corp. focus on selling underperforming sites to reduce leverage, Morgan Stanley’s Zachary Sopcak said.

The light at the end of the tunnel is some hospitals are rising to the occasion, Perlman said. Some acute care facilities are restructuring as outpatient emergency clinics with free-standing emergency departments. “Microhospitals,” or facilities with ten beds or less, are another trend that may hold promise.

 

Fate of Bay Area hospitals in doubt as hedge fund deal to save them sours

https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/07/23/fate-of-bay-area-hospitals-in-doubt-as-deal-to-save-them-sours/

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Santa Clara County interested in buying O’Connor and St. Louise

Santa Clara County is hoping to buy a pair of struggling hospitals that have long served as a safety net for the poor, less than three years after they were sold to a New York hedge fund in a state-approved deal to ensure they remained open.

County Executive Jeff Smith said the county sees a renewed opportunity to acquire O’Connor Hospital in San Jose and St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy as public hospitals to extend its reach and help relieve overcrowding at the county-run Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose.

“We’re watching carefully,” Smith said. “We’ve told them that we’re interested and asked them to let us know what their process is going to be.”

The county’s interest comes after Verity Health System, the Redwood City-based secular nonprofit that now runs the hospitals, announced the “potential sale of some or all” of the hospitals among options “to alleviate financial and operational pressures.”

It was less than three years ago that the Catholic Daughters of Charity, which provided medical care for California’s poor since the Gold Rush, announced the largest nonprofit hospital transaction in state history with the $260 million sale of six hospitals to a hedge fund.

The deal, blessed by a state attorney general under conditions that included facility improvements and no cuts to charity care, jobs or pay, was welcomed with guarded optimism: As hospitals struggle nationwide, a half dozen in the Bay Area and Los Angeles would stay open.

But already, the deal has soured. Verity saw operating losses of $55.8 million in the nine months that ended March 31.

The hospitals in San Jose, Gilroy, Daly City, Half Moon Bay and Los Angeles provide 1,650 inpatient beds, emergency rooms, a trauma center and a host of medical specialties, and employ 7,000.

But insurers are pushing to cut hospital stays to keep a lid on costs and premiums, shrinking hospital business. At the same time, demand for housing and commercial space has soared with California’s surging economy, raising the possibility that some of the hospitals could be turned into homes or offices.

Who would buy the hospitals, and what other alternatives are under consideration, is unclear. No hospital chains have announced interest.

“I don’t know of a system in California that would pick them up,” said Wanda J. Jones, a veteran health system planner and writer in San Francisco who has followed the deal.

San Mateo County officials could not say what might happen to Seton Medical Center in Daly City and Seton Coastside in Moss Beach, near Half Moon Bay.

“The potential closure of the hospitals and the impact on the residents they serve is very important to the county,” said Michelle Durand, spokeswoman for the San Mateo County county manager’s office. “However, we currently have made no decisions and also cannot speculate as to the potential interest of private hospital operators.”

But Santa Clara County officials have been vocal about their interest.

Daughters of Charity Health System had declined to sell the two hospitals to Santa Clara County because it wanted to sell all the hospitals as a package. After for-profit Prime Healthcare Services walked away from a potential $843 million deal to buy the six hospitals in 2015, calling then-Attorney General Kamala Harris’ conditions too burdensome, Daughters sold them to hedge fund BlueMountain Capital Management under similar terms.

A year ago, a Culver City company owned by billionaire doctor and entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong, who also owns the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, bought the hedge fund’s Integrity Healthcare division that owns Verity.

Smith said that in the current landscape for hospitals, O’Connor and St. Louise would always be money-losers for a private owner, but could pencil out as public hospitals. That’s because public hospitals get reimbursed by Medi-Cal, the state’s coverage for the poor, at higher rates than private hospitals, which rely on a mix of insured patients to cover charity care costs. O’Connor and St. Louise, he said, are in areas where they won’t attract enough insured patients.

For the county, acquiring O’Connor and St. Louise would make sense, Smith said. The county’s Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose is “filled to the brim with patients, and we have great need for services,” said René G. Santiago, deputy county executive and director of the Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System.

Some of the money to buy the hospitals could come from funds set aside for VMC renovation, Smith said.

But the six hospitals share debt and employee retirement obligations, which is what made Daughters of Charity unwilling to sell them piecemeal, Smith said.

There’s also the possibility that potential buyers may see greater use for some of the hospital properties for housing or offices. Smith said that while that wouldn’t satisfy the attorney general’s approval conditions, a seller could argue those terms were unworkable and seek a new deal.

Jones said the attorney general’s conditions made it impossible for the hospitals to survive in today’s environment, calling terms like no job cuts “insane.”

“Kamala Harris was so overboard in her requirement for what she wanted to happen,” Jones said. “You don’t put a condition like that on a buyer.”

The office of the attorney general, now under Democrat Xavier Becerra, had no comment.

Sean Wherley, a spokesman for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, which represents the hospitals workers, said when the possible sale was announced earlier this month that they were “disappointed.”

He said the union expects “Verity and any new buyer to be held accountable to keep hospitals open, maintain vital services, fund pension obligations, protect jobs and honor our collective bargaining agreements.”

 

491-bed Ohio hospital closes: 5 things to know

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/patient-flow/491-bed-ohio-hospital-closes-5-things-to-know.html

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Good Samaritan Hospital, a 491-bed facility in Dayton, Ohio, closed July 23.

Here are five things to know:

1. Dayton-based Premier Health, which owns Good Samaritan Hospital, first announced plans in January to close the facility. Premier said operating two hospitals — Good Samaritan and Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton — within 5 miles of each other had become unsustainable.

2. In June, Premier announced it would close Good Samaritan July 23.

3. One week before Good Samaritan was schedule to shut down, HHS launched an investigation into whether closing the hospital would have a disproportionate effect on African-American residents. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley publicly called on Premier Health July 17 to not demolish the hospital until after the agency completes its investigation.

4. Premier Health moved forward with the closure of Good Samaritan as scheduled. The hospital shut down its emergency room July 19, and the facility completely closed at 12:01 a.m. on July 23.

5. The closure of Good Samaritan’s ER did not have a significant effect on wait times at local hospitals, according to the Dayton Daily News. Wait times at Miami Valley Hospital and Grandview Hospital in Dayton were 23 minutes and 19 minutes, respectively, on July 22.

 

 

 

A Long Road to Care for Rural Californians

https://www.chcf.org/blog/long-road-to-care-for-rural-californians/

Cramped rural hospital in Happy Valley California

In the northeast corner of California, nearly kissing Nevada and Oregon, lies Surprise Valley. At approximately 70 miles long, the valley is home to 1,232 people, which works out to about two people per square mile. Services are sparse: The Chamber of Commerce website lists two grocery stores, one insurance agency, and one hospital with an emergency room to provide care to its residents.

Essential CoverageThat hospital, Surprise Valley Community Hospital, is a vital institution, but it is bankrupt. Barbara Feder Ostrov of Kaiser Health News reports that years of mismanagement caught up to the hospital in 2017. By the time state inspectors arrived that June, the hospital was in a state of disarray — crushed by debt, it had only one acute care bed and a chief administrator who was MIA. Residents of Surprise Valley were torn between keeping it open and shuttering it even though the nearest hospital with an emergency room is 25 miles away on the other side of a mountain pass. In the June 5 California election, county voters chose to sell the hospital to an out-of-state entrepreneur rather than risk the hospital’s closure.

Surprise Valley isn’t alone in its lack of access to health care. Since 2010, 83 rural US hospitals have closed, Michael Graff writes in the Guardian. For residents of rural areas, the closure of the local hospital can cut off a lifeline. When Portia Gibbs of Belhaven, North Carolina, had a heart attack in 2014, her husband, Barry, had to choose between driving her 60 miles east to a hospital in Nags Head or 70 miles west to a hospital in the town of Washington. Portia never made it to a hospital.

It’s difficult to attract physicians and hospitals to rural areas, where wages and reimbursement rates tend to be lower. “What happens is if you’re a cardiologist you have a tendency to move to the East Coast where you can get paid more for the same procedure,” said US Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) in a meeting with HHS Secretary Alex Azar, according to Modern Healthcare.

Solving the Rural Hospital Puzzle

There is no easy fix for the decline in the number of rural hospitals, but Moran and other senators have proposed fixing the Medicare wage index. The index, which factors into reimbursement of hospitals serving Medicare patients, is a formula that accounts for geographic differences in wages and the cost of living. Some lawmakers contend that the formula penalizes rural hospitals and exacerbates the hospital shortage. Updating the index to increase payments to Medicare providers in underserved areas could draw more physicians to rural hospitals, which could help prevent hospitals from going under.

Some rural hospitals have tried another solution: joining multihospital systems. In California, where 25% of rural hospitals have closed over the past two decades, 19 rural hospitals have combined forces in systems composed of at least two other hospitals. However, our analysis of six of these hospitals showed mixed results for this strategy: The financial status of one rural hospital improved substantially after joining a system, but two others saw lower net income.

Perhaps a more feasible solution to lack of access to care in rural areas can be found in expanding the health care workforce. A study published in Health Affairsfound a growing presence of nurse practitioners (NPs) among rural practices nationwide. From 2008 to 2016, the number of NPs in rural areas increased 43%. Not surprisingly, “states with restricted scopes of practice had lower NP presence and slower growth.” The authors conclude that “adding nurse practitioners is a useful way for practices to align themselves with contemporary efforts to improve access and performance.”

It seems fitting and bittersweet to end this edition of Essential Coverage with our tribute to the late Herrmann Spetzler, the visionary CEO and the heart of Open Door Community Health Centers in rural Humboldt and Del Norte Counties. To underscore his commitment to providing health care in remote locales, he often described himself in meetings and speeches as “Herrmann Spetzler, RURAL.” Spetzler’s unexpected death in March cut short his life’s work to provide health care to everyone, regardless of income or geography. His passing leaves a huge hole in the community he served.