Washington Post, McAuliffe sing sad song for hospital with poor track record

DEFENDED: The governor and the Washington Post editorial pages defended a hospital that doesn’t have the best track record.

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

RICHMOND, Va. — Perhaps the Washington Post editorial team could have done a little more fact checking before defending a hospital that had to repay the feds for over-billing Medicare — and has a sketchy safety ranking.

In a March 15 editorial, “The GOP plays chicken with Virginians’ health,” the editorial board mentioned Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s stop at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg on his statewide campaign to expand Medicaid, a campaign that’s meant to drum up support for supposedly financially foundering hospitals.

Republicans criticized McAuliffe’s visit, claiming the hospital had more than $185 million in the bank and paid its CEO nearly $1 million. Pushing the Medicaid expansion position, the Post, like McAuliffe, stood in defense of Mary Washington:

“Putting aside the irony of Republicans assailing an executive for being highly paid, the truth is that the hospital is in financial straits,” the editorial reads. “It lost $30 million over the past two years and, having borrowed heavily to finance an expansion, is burdened by debt. Its $185 million in reserves represents less than half a year’s operating capital. Like most hospitals in the state, Mary Washington has been hit hard by cuts in federal subsidies that Medicaid expansion was designed to offset. That math was upended when the Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out of taking the additional Medicaid dollars. If Republicans in Richmond continue to refuse the federal funding, Virginia hospitals, already hard-pressed, will be forced to make deep cuts — to emergency rooms, mobile health vans and obstetrics wards, to name a few.”

It’s true the hospital has financial troubles, and Mary Washington also doesn’t have the best track record in other areas.

The Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General announced in late 2013 that the hospital would have to repay the government $327, 180 for over-billing Medicare. That was the result of a review of three years’ worth of the hospital’s practices.

Mary Washington also scored poorly in Consumer Reports on safety, ranking 32nd of 39 Virginia hospitals and getting an overall safety score of 43 out of 100. It earned the worst scores on infections and scanning, and Consumer Reports found complications were worse than average.

According to Healthgrades.com, the hospital’s rates for readmission, heart failure and pneumonia also are worse than the national average for hospitals.

Much of the hospital’s operating loss comes down to market competition. It lost its status as the area’s sole provider for Medicare services when the Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center moved into town in January 2011, the Freelance Star reported last year.

Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org, and can be reached at kwatson@watchdog.org.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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