Kitchen: ‘We deserve better’ than Prime Healthcare at Roxborough Hospital

Pennsylvania State Senator Shirley Kitchen (D-Phila.) calls it a ‘mistake.’

Although, the sale of Roxborough Hospital to California-based Prime Healthcare Services became official last month for an undisclosed amount, she is urging health officials to reconsider the deal.

“It is more difficult to undo a mistake than to avoid one to begin with; yet in this case we have no choice but to try,” Kitchen wrote to the director of the Pennsylvania Department of Health in a March 26 letter, obtained by NewsWorks this week. 

Prime Healthcare, which owns and operates 15 hospitals, is reportedly under investigation for allegedly sending fraudulent bills to the federal Medicare system. A California Watch report indicates that, in 2009, Prime hospitals reported “alarming” rates of kwashiorkor, a rare form of severe malnutrition common in Third World countries, among its Medicare patients. The report adds that Prime hospitals were being investigated for upcoding, “an illegal practice by which hospitals overstate patients’ diagnoses on billing records to obtain bonus payments from the government.”

Prime Healthcare’s new Chief Executive Peter Adamo denies those reports. 

“We’re not aware of any of this. That’s propaganda,” Adamo said on Friday about the reported investigation. “None of us have been contacted about this.”

He cited a January 2012 report from the California Department of Health as proof that the healthcare system is in the clear. 

“[They] reviewed our records concerning the rates of incidences and they have come clean, there is nothing to be found,” he said. 

An FBI representative says officials are prohibited from commenting on whether specific investigations are under way.

Adamo said he was “disappointed” to hear about Sen. Kitchen’s letter of opposition to the deal but added that it’s time to move forward. 

“I don’t think it’s even possible to retract the acquisition; we are pretty deep into this,” he said.  

Kitchen, who said she wouldn’t make any additional comments beyond the letter until she speaks with the secretary of health, expressed surprise and concern with the Roxborough transaction.

“We deserve better than Prime in Roxborough and across Pennsylvania,” she said in the letter, adding that California’s attorney general refused to allow Prime to buy a financially struggling California hospital last September, saying it was ‘not in the public interest.’

“A company that cannot win approval to operate a new hospital in its home state should be scrutinized closely in ours,” she continues. 

Holli Senior, Spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said Senator Kitchen’s concerns had been provided to the department by others during the time that the Roxborough license transfer was being processed. 

“Our investigation did not reveal any improprieties on the part of the new owner in any jurisdiction that would have prevented the Department from making the transfer,” she said in an email to NewsWorks on Friday. “The transfer has already taken place.” 

Adamo says the top items on his to-do list at Roxborough Hospital are: improving the air handling systems, boilers and generators, as well as fixing the roof and bringing new equipment into the facility. 

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