Blood report assailed

Jim Steinberg, Staff Writer
Created: 10/12/2010 05:47:54 PM PDT

ONTARIO – Prime Healthcare Services called allegations that it has extraordinarily high rates of blood-borne infections at its California hospitals a union effort to “extort” concessions in contract negotiations and “coerce” management into executing policies favorable to union expansion in the 13-hospital chain.

Researchers at the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) compiled a detailed analysis of life threatening blood poisoning incidents at 111 health systems nationwide that showed the Ontario-based health care organization operated five of the six hospitals with the highest blood infection rates in 2008.

Comparing health systems of comparable size, the union study said the rate of septicemia (blood poisoning) among Medicare patients at Prime Healthcare hospitals was more than three times the national average.

Within Prime Healthcare, Montclair Hospital Medical Center had the highest septicemia rate, affecting 25percent of all Medicare patients. The rate was 20.3percent at Desert Valley Hospital in Victorville and 19.8percent in Chino Valley Medical Center in Chino.

The report says the analysis shows a serious breakdown in patient care or possible Medicare fraud.

The costs to treat blood poisoning are significant.

But Prime Healthcare says the union’s numbers don’t tell the whole story.

In its statement, Prime Healthcare says it “operates a model that emphasizes emergency departments and emergency admissions as opposed to elective admissions which results in, among other things, substantially sicker patients being seen at Prime Healthcare hospitals. …”

“As Prime Healthcare’s emergency departments see sicker patients, the chances of patients presenting with sepsis or early sepsis increase.”

The data relied upon by the union focuses on the patient’s condition upon presentation to the emergency department, not conditions acquired at the hospital, the statement said.

“We completely follow the guidelines on septicemia. … Most of the patients who come in need a lot of attention and care. … The union has not taken that into account,” said Lex Reddy, chief financial officer.

As a result of the union report, two Congress members and the chairwoman of the California Senate Health Committee have requested state and federal investigations.

Union officials and state Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose, have also asked the state to withhold approval of the company’s request for a license to operate Victor Valley Community Hospital in Victorville, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year.

Reddy said that because it has not yielded to union pressures, the hospital group is facing these “extreme union measures.”

Reddy said the allegations in the report are contrary to recognition the chain has received from several respected national health care rating agencies.

According to the statement, Prime Healthcare was the only for-profit health system to be recognized as a Top 10 Health System in the nation by Thomson Reuters and that several of its hospitals, including Desert Valley Hospital, West Anaheim Medical Center and Montclair Hospital Medical Center, have been ranked among the Top 100 Hospitals in the nation by Thomson Reuters.

Separately, Chino Valley Medical Center, Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, Desert Valley Hospital and Garden Grove Hospital & Medical Center received HealthGrades 2010 Emergency Medicine Excellence Award, which places them among the top 5percent of all hospitals for outstanding emergency medicine services.

Additionally, 10 of Prime Healthcare’s hospitals received five out of five stars in HealthGrades 2010 Quality Report for Sepsis.

Reddy said the hospital group has not been formally notified that it is under investigation by any agency.

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