NAPLES — A Naples-based hospital operator played defense on Friday, attempting to get ahead of a scrutinizing “60 Minutes” segment that will air Sunday.
Health Management Associates Inc. organized a last-minute conference call from New York for investors and analysts heading into the weekend, after getting confirmation late Thursday that the segment will air Sunday.
The segment will examine the public company’s admission practices. It will focus on statements by doctors that the hospital chain pressured them into admitting patients “regardless of their medical needs,” according to a tease on the “60 Minutes” website.
“It has been confirmed. What we have to report will be in our story Sunday,” said Kevin Tedesco, a spokesman for the show, known for its hard-hitting investigative reports.
Dubbed “The Cost of Admission,” the segment was investigated by correspondent Steve Kroft.
In a company statement Friday, Health Management said: “We take all allegations involving compliance very seriously. With regard to emergency room admissions, we retained third-party experts to comprehensively examine company data to determine whether the allegations related to inappropriate admissions have validity, and they determined that the data simply do not support the allegations.”
Alan Levine, an HMA senior vice president and Florida Group president, said during the conference call Friday that he did an interview with the CBS show in October. He stressed that it’s the patients’ doctors, not hospital executives nor administrators, who make decisions about whether admissions are needed.
“Simply put, administrators cannot and do not admit patients,” said Levine, a former secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.
He said the decision to admit patients is tricky and a wrong decision can be critical either way.
“Remember in the ER, timing is everything,” Levine said.
Health Management first disclosed during its second-quarter conference call in July that it had caught the eye of “60 Minutes.” Earlier in the year, a show producer contacted the American Academy of Emergency Medicine for help in reaching doctors who had worked for Health Management and knew about its practices.
Ongoing government investigations are looking at whether the company’s use of Pro-Med software led to unnecessary emergency room tests and admissions, and overbilling at its hospitals, according to court records and company filings with the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission. Health Management stopped using the software in 2010, according to Modern Healthcare, a trade magazine.
HMA operates 70 hospitals in 15 states, with many of them in Florida, Alabama and North Carolina, according to the company’s website. In Collier County, its hospitals include Physicians Regional — Pine Ridge and Physicians Regional — Collier.
During Friday’s conference call, company executives shared data on total admissions from its emergency departments, showing they were in line with national averages and that they’ve been steady, with no noticeable spikes over four years. The rate of admissions in January 2008, for example, was 13.3 percent. In July 2011, it was 13.3 percent, based on the presentation.
The rate of one-day stays for Medicare patients who visited the company’s emergency rooms actually declined year-over-year in 2011, said Eric Waller, Health Management’s chief marketing officer, pointing to the independent data during the conference call.
“The conclusion here is we find no validity to any of the potential allegations,” he said.
At least part of the “60 Minutes” show could be on HMA’s Carlisle Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania. Newspapers in Pennsylvania have reported that a show producer has interviewed emergency room doctors who used to work there about whether they faced pressure to admit patients.
The data Health Management shared with investors and analysts singled out the emergency department admission rates at the Carlisle, where several doctors have made allegations of fraud. Those rates were below or in line with other urban hospitals in Pennsylvania and nationally.
“So there is nothing there,” Waller said.
According to a late-October story in The Sentinel in Carlisle, Pa. several doctors who once worked at Carlisle have talked to “60 Minutes” about whether they were pressured by HMA to commit Medicare and other fraud. One of those doctors is Cliff Cloonan, an emergency medicine physician who has since left the hospital.
“My only interest in the story is seeing that justice gets done,” he told The Sentinel.
Cloonan couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
There have been allegations by doctors and physician assistants that Health Management fired or forced them out of Carlisle. There have been critical reports of the hospital by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, focused mostly on emergency room waiting times and a shortage of staff. Yet, it has been named a top-performing hospital by The Joint Commission, the leading accreditor of health-care organizations in America.
Health Management acquired Carlisle in 2001.
Brian Tanquilut, a health-care analyst with Jefferies & Co. in Tennessee, said he expects volatility in Health Management’s stock early next week, as the fallout occurs from Sunday’s show.
“The headline Sunday is probably going to be worse than the situation actually is,” he said. “You can imagine ‘60 Minutes’ will make it more sensationalized than it needs to be. They are going to be interviewing people who are going to say things that may or may not be true, but if it’s on TV people will think that, ‘hey it’s the truth.’”
HMA managers did a good job during the conference call of sharing data that supports their arguments that they’re above board and not doing anything wrong, he said.
The analyst has a “hold” rating on the stock.
“Maybe the feature is not that bad,” Tanquilut said. “But I’m assuming the worst because “60 Minutes” does not do a jolly story about a hospital company.”
__ The News Services of Florida contributed to this story.
Executives with a Naples-based hospital operator played defense on Friday, attempting to get ahead of a scrutinizing "60 Minutes" segment that will air Sunday.
Health Management Associates Inc. organized a last-minute conference call from New York for investors heading into the weekend, after getting confirmation that the segment will air Sunday.
The segment will examine the public company’s admission practices, which have come into question over allegations of fraud. The report will focus on claims by doctors that the hospital chain pressured them into admitting patients "regardless of their medical needs," according to a tease on the TV show’s website.
"It has been confirmed. What we have to report will be in our story Sunday," said Kevin Tedesco, a spokesman for "60 Minutes," the popular CBS show known for its investigative reports.
In a company statement Friday, Health Management said, "We take all allegations involving compliance very seriously. With regard to emergency room admissions, we retained third-party experts to comprehensively examine company data to determine whether the allegations related to inappropriate admissions have validity, and they determined that the data simply do not support the allegations."
The company first disclosed it had caught the eye of "60 Minutes" during its second-quarter conference call in July. At that time, executives seemed uncertain whether the company would ultimately end up on the show.
Check back today to naplesnews.com and the Saturday edition of Naples Daily News for more on this story.