HCA Healthcare is one of the largest and wealthiest hospital chains in the world. Despite their wealth and success, the healthcare giant is now making headlines for their alleged less-than-savory practices during the COVID-19 pandemic. Reports say that HCA has received billions of dollars in government bailout funds, but still has furloughed thousands of employees.
Now, their actions and the quality of care at their facilities is being called into question. Brown, Christie & Green’s medical malpractice attorney discusses why HCA employees are outraged in today’s post.
HCA Healthcare Receives Government Bailout Funds
HCA Healthcare is worth an estimated $36 billion and earned more than $7 billion in profits in just the last two years. Despite their wealth, HCA has reportedly received more than $1 billion in bailout funds from the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bailout funds are issued in an effort to help healthcare companies stabilize hospitals and staffing needs.
Despite having healthy profits, HCA is one of several “deep-pocketed” healthcare companies that received bailout funds. Many of these companies are still furloughing employees, laying off staff or cutting pay for thousands of vital healthcare workers. Companies like HCA have also continued to pay multi-million dollar salaries to their top executives while cutting pay for doctors, nurses and other lower-paid workers.
Recently, the New York Times analyzed data about 60 of the largest hospital chains in the U.S. Here is what they found:
- The 60 largest hospital chains received over $15 billion in emergency funds or stimulus packages through the CARES Act.
- At least 36 hospital chains have furloughed, laid off or cut pay among employees in an effort to “save money.”
- Major hospital chains have tens of billions of dollars sitting in cash reserves for emergency situations.
Despite laying off or furloughing employees, hospital chain companies collectively paid their highest-paid officials around $874 million in the most recent year that data is available.
Now, healthcare advocates are concerned that bailout funds have not been used as they were intended to be. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be much oversight for how hospital chains are spending the money. Associate professor of health policy and economics at Yale University, Zack Cooper, says,
“When you see hospitals laying off or furloughing staff, it’s pretty good evidence the way they designed the policy is not optimal.”
Numerous HCA Healthcare Employees Complain about Spending Practices
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, numerous HCA Healthcare employees have complained about what they call “penny-pinching” spending practices. Workers at 19 HCA hospitals filed complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) about a lack of respirator masks. They also complain that they were forced to reuse medical gowns.
One HCA nurse in Missouri died from the coronavirus in April. Her death came a month after her colleagues complained to OSHA that she had no choice but to treat a patient without PPE. A janitor at an HCA hospital in California died in May from the coronavirus after cleaning patient rooms. Her colleagues had complained to executives that janitors and other staff were not provided with proper masks.
At least a dozen workers at some of the wealthiest hospitals in the U.S. report that employer decisions have hurt the quality of care at hospitals. Furloughing and laying off front-line staff like janitors, cafeteria workers and nursing assistants has made it difficult for other medical staff. Many workers report having to treat more patients in less time, as well as having to take on more responsibilities.
Furloughs and Lay Offs Outrage Employees
In May 2020, HCA Healthcare executives sent a warning to the Service Employees International Union and National Nurses United. These two groups represent a significant number of HCA employees. The warning letter stated that HCA would lay off up to 10% of their members if unionized employees did not amend their contracts. Such amendments include incorporating wage freezes and eliminating company contributions to retirement plans.
Nurses responded to HCA’s demands by protesting in front of dozens of HCA hospitals. One nurse who is actively treating COVID-19 patients says,
“We are dealing with people’s lives, and this company puts their profits over patients and their staff.”
HCA contends that they have not laid off any workers “due to the pandemic.” They also say that it is the unions that are making it difficult to manage financial aspects of COVID-19. HCA also says that the company did provide appropriate PPE to employees. Their employees continue to argue otherwise.
While major hospital chains battle with employees, it is patients who are in the middle. Patients who rely on hospitals to have proper equipment and staff. Now, there is some concern about the quality of care at hospitals with reduced staff. Of course, there are also concerns about COVID-19 continuing to spread in facilities without adequate staff or PPE.