Ark. ED Director Disputes '60 Minutes' Report

Ark. ED Director Disputes '60 Minutes' Report

News Dec 05, 2012

Dec. 05--A segment on CBS television network's news program "60 Minutes" claiming Health Management Associates Inc. -- owner of Sparks Medical Center in Fort Smith and Summit Medical Center in Van Buren -- has been pressuring emergency-room physicians to increase the admission of Medicare patients got it wrong, the head of the hospitals' emergency departments said Tuesday.

Dr. Lee Johnson, ER medical director at Sparks for 10 years and for both hospitals over the past year, said contrary to statements former HMA physicians made on the network television broadcast, the company does not establish quotas for admitting patients and does not rate physicians on how many patients they may admit for inpatient treatment.

Johnson said any tracking of emergency patients' subsequent admissions is performed to detect patterns in ER treatment and admissions.

"We assume if we see the same population we ought to be admitting about the same percentage of patients," he said. "If we begin to see a physician is admitting less or more in numbers outside the normal practice, that might raise concern. But as far as tracking with a goal, or meeting a goal, we've never felt pressured to do that."

"In my experience at my experience at Sparks, HMA has been a positive partner in our treatment of patients," Johnson said. "I've never been pressured to do anything that is not clinically sound."

He also said assertions in the segment that patients are admitted to make the hospitals more money "is hard for me to swallow."

Johnson said insurance and government regulators scrutinize claims and those found to be unjustified are not allowed.

"The truth is if they admit inappropriate claims they're going to lose money," he said, "whether the patient is admitted or not."

HMA corporate officials also commented on the Sunday night broadcast.

In a statement issued Monday, HMA said, "... '60 Minutes' relied entirely on disgruntled former employees of the company and former contracted physicians, several of whom are seeking financial gain through active litigation with Health Management."

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One portion of the segment featured comments by Dr. Jeffrey Hamby, a Van Buren physician who worked for EmCare, a provider of services under contract to Summit's emergency room. Hamby has filed a suit against Summit alleging wrongful termination.

HMA also noted "60 Minutes" "found no issues with the quality of care at Health Management hospitals" and that the news program "failed to identify a single patient who had been inappropriately admitted from any of the company's emergency rooms by the physicians interviewed."

"Neither '60 Minutes' nor the physicians interviewed identified any admission decision in which a physician's medical judgment was overridden by an HMA executive, much less to defraud Medicare," HMA also stated.

On Friday, after being notified that "60 Minutes" was moving forward with its broadcast, Health Management held a conference call in which it provided data about admissions from its emergency rooms.

Alan Levine, HMA senior vice president and Florida group president, said in the call the data showed the company's admission rates from 2008-11 "remain consistent and completely in line with industry norms. We have seen no evidence of upward trends, spikes or jumps that can be attributed to anything going on in the emergency department."

The information presented on the call and additional information is available in the Investor Relations section of HMA.com.

HMA's stock, traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol HMA, has fallen in value since the "60 Minutes" segment aired. The stock was trading at $8.07 per share Thursday and closed at $7.95 per share Friday. Monday it opened at $7.69. At the close of trade Tuesday, it was valued at $7.37.

Copyright 2012 - Times Record, Fort Smith, Ark.

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Times Record, Fort Smith, Ark.
Rusty Garrett
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