Tough Economy Adds Stress To Hospitals; Community Health Centers Help Fill Gaps

Hospitals get mixed marks while many suffer from the effects of the struggling economy. Meanwhile, community health centers increasingly provide more care and help fill in health care gaps. 

The Bucks County Courier Times reports on struggling hospitals. Hospitals might "appear recession-proof" but, in truth, "they're more often a money pit that only gets deeper in bad economic times, health care business experts say. Little national data exists about hospital bankruptcies and their long-term outcomes, since most financially distressed hospitals ... are sold or closed, rather than endure the grueling and expensive bankruptcy process, health care business experts say. ... Health care business and administration experts agree that hospitals are facing financial problems in the current economic climate, especially nonprofit hospitals" (Ciavaglia, 2/3).

The New York Times reports on the decline of St. Vincent's Hospital. "Today the hospital is struggling, and last week, in what could mean the death knell of the last Roman Catholic general hospital in New York City, a chain of hospitals proposed to take over St. Vincent's, shut down its inpatient beds and most of its emergency room services, and convert it into an outpatient center." St. Vincent's serves much of the city's homeless population and "officials blamed a high rate of poor and uninsured patients as well as cuts in Medicare and Medicaid and the hospital's inability to negotiate favorable contracts with health insurance companies, claiming their fees were 30 percent below the market rate" (Hartocollis, 2/2).

Meanwhile, The Arizona Republic reports on local hospitals with high marks. "Banner Boswell and Banner Del E. Webb medical centers are among the top 5 percent of hospitals nationwide when it comes to lower mortality and complication rates, according to an annual independent study. HealthGrades, a health-care ratings organization, found that the 269 hospitals, including the two Sun Cities facilities, have a 29 percent lower mortality rate and 9 percent lower complication rates than all other hospitals for Medicare patients. ... The ranking looked at 5,000 non-federal hospitals and took into consideration 26 medical procedures, including treatment for heart failure, pneumonia, stroke, hip and knee replacements, back surgery and stent procedures" (Chan, 2/2).

Reuters reports on how community health centers "can help fill gaps in the U.S. healthcare system for relatively little money, researchers said on Tuesday. Their report, published in the journal Health Affairs, was released just as President Barack Obama proposed increased federal funding to the centers, which are set up to treat people without health insurance, people who live far from hospitals or the poor." The programs received more than $2 billion last year from the federal stimulus legislation. The researchers "found an increase in services across the board, especially in treating mental conditions. Each additional $1 million of federal grant support led to roughly eight more full-time employees, five of them medical care providers, they found. Every $1 million in state grants led to close to five full-time employees, while private grant dollars led to nine new employees" (2/2).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.