Washington County Hospital joins ranks of NC's failing rural health care system

Another victim of privatization:

Washington County Hospital CEO Melanie Perry tells WCTI in New Bern that the facility's owner has plans to resolve several problems, including dwindling medical supplies and workers not getting paid for two weeks. Empower HMS promised 50 employees that checks would arrive Monday, but staff members said they never came. There has been no word on when or if the medical supplies will be replenished.

Perry said closing the county's only hospital would be devastating to the town of Plymouth, approximately 125 miles east of Raleigh.

Before we dig deeper into this unfortunate situation, a few words on how this could have been avoided are in order. When a public (municipal) entity provides a service, whether it's health care, transportation, water & sewer, or any other critical infrastructure issue, all considerations about turning a profit (net revenue gain, if you will) or even "breaking even" should be disregarded. Providing services to citizens is what government is for, and that's why we pay taxes. And this goes double in rural areas, where the economy simply cannot support/sustain a perpetually profitable business. Had local elected officials understood that back in 2007, they might not have sold this hospital in the first place. Because once a facility like this enters the private sector, the sharks start circling:

The Shaffers’ lawsuit claims Perez and others seized control of the 10-hospital group, called HMC Hospitals, during a meeting in Kansas City last year. It said they took control after the board of HMC Hospitals failed to immediately accept their proposed laboratory testing program.

Perez’s group, the lawsuit said, “intended to implement at the HMC Hospitals and did implement in at least some of them” an “illegal billing scheme” that was “substantially similar to the scheme then being operated” at Putnam County Memorial by Perez, Empower H.I.S. and others.

In 31 pages, the couple also charged that Perez’s group misappropriated $2 million from the 10 small hospitals, pushed four of the hospitals into default on $29.3 million in loans, submitted false hospital reports to Medicare and Medicaid, and rendered “essentially valueless” the $3 million of value other owners of the hospital group held when the Perez group took control.

Understand, it doesn't matter how nice or how seemingly responsible the initial (private sector) buyers are; when they start operating in the red, they will be forced to borrow, or sell. And in this case, the borrowing led to a (legal) takeover. The other crap Perez and his cronies pulled may not be legal, and hopefully the Federal government will get off its ass and investigate the Medicaid/Medicare billing stuff. But that's small comfort for the town of Plymouth, and the people who will have to travel to another county for treatment.



Turning the other page

This is not really a critique of NC's news outlets, but more of an observation: The above corporate shenanigans were not hard to uncover, and *should* be one of the first things reporters look at when researching the collapse of something as important as a hospital, even a tiny facility like Washington County's. Money was literally sucked out of this hospital by a corporate vampire, who's done the exact same thing in other states. But you wouldn't know that by reading local coverage.

Yes, the economics of rural healthcare are important, but without that additional information, privatization will continue. And we'll keep losing hospitals.