Two Washington lawmakers have requested information from HCA Healthcare Inc., the nation’s largest hospital company, about conditions and practices at its Bayonet Point Hospital in Hudson, Florida, following a February NBC News report in which experts detailed the great deficiencies in the facilities.
The NBC News report was based on regulatory documents and interviews with four doctors at the facility, including George Giannakopoulos, a neurosurgeon who was his longtime chief of staff. Among the deficiencies outlined in the report are an increase in patient safety events at Bayonet Point, a messy anesthesiology department, dilapidated and dirty infrastructure, and cockroaches in an operating room.
The unsafe practices and conditions at the 290-bed acute care center were the result of HCA putting profits before patient care, the doctors maintained, a view HCA disputed in the report.
Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Gus Bilirakis, both Republicans from Florida, sent the letter to HCA on March 20stating: “As a leading health care provider in the community and recipient of American taxpayer dollars, it is critical that HCA Florida Bayonet Point prioritize the health and safety of its patients and staff and be transparent about these standards with the public.”
Lawmakers asked HCA to provide information related to eight questions. Among them: What is the hospital doing to address the allegations in the NBC News report, and how much of the hospital’s budget is devoted to patient safety? Rubio and Bilirakis also asked how HCA ensures proper staff to patient ratios are maintained. Lawmakers asked the company to provide its responses as soon as possible.
An HCA Healthcare spokesperson said it will provide a detailed response to lawmakers. “We are proud of the quality care provided at the hospital and appreciate the opportunity to share information with Senator Rubio and Congressman Bilirakis,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Regina Temple, CEO of Bayonet Point and the recipient of the letter, did not respond to a request for comment.
Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, HCA Healthcare operates 182 hospitals and 125 surgical centers across the country and in the United Kingdom. It has 49 hospitals in Florida, the most of any state.
On its hospital comparison website, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which manages health care for more than 60 million Americans, rates 37 of Florida’s HCA hospitals. Up to 70% of them have a below average rating, with one or two stars out of a possible five. None of the HCA Florida hospitals currently have a five-star rating.
HCA Healthcare is highly profitable (it made $5.6 billion last year) and its shares are up 6.4% year-to-date, outperforming the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
When asked in February about the problems at Bayonet Point, HCA told NBC News that it is always looking for ways to improve patient safety and quality of care. “HCA Florida Bayonet Point Hospital is adequately staffed to ensure the safe care of our patients,” the company said in a statement at the time. “We rely on the feedback from our physicians, and when the issues are validated, we take the necessary action.”
Responding to criticism of Bayonet Point by neurosurgeon Giannakopoulos, hospital board chairwoman Dr. Christine Behan characterized it as exhibiting “repeated instances of inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour, including threatening, yelling at and berating staff, doctors and hospital administrators. .” As a result, she said, the board rescinded Giannakopoulos’s election as hospital chief of staff in December.
Giannakopoulos disputed this version at the time, saying that the charges “were fabricated by the hospital administration to prevent me from being the chief of staff because I was calling them for patient care.” The other three doctors interviewed for the report said they too believed that was the case.
In addition to interviewing doctors at Bayonet Point, NBC News also cited complaints from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration about deficiencies in staff-to-patient ratios and other practices. Last September, for example, the nurse-to-patient ratio fell short at Bayonet Point, agency documents show, with a staff member telling government investigators that she “doesn’t feel safe with the number of patients per nurse. The hospital said it had resolved the issues with the agency.
Since the NBC News report aired, the HCA spokesperson added in the statement: “The accrediting body known as The Joint Commission and Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration, conducted surveys at our hospital and none resulted in any adverse findings. AHCA asked to see Bayonet Point’s plan to improve staffing and we have provided it.”
CMS assigns Bayonet Point an overall rating of one star out of five, the lowest government rating. “CMS’s ratings are based on data from 2017-2019 and we have since improved our performance,” the hospital spokeswoman said in February.
Still, Rubio and Bilirakis asked HCA this question in their letter: “What actions do you plan to take to increase CMS’ overall star rating by one star?”