Friday, October 19, 2007

Where's Justice Department Ryan on Carlyle/Manor Care Deal?

After a previous complaint to the Justice Department about the merger of two San Angelo hospitals, a staffer named Ryan called. The parties had just called off their plans to create one huge for-profit hospital. However, my current beef is over the acquisition of Manor Care by The Carlyle Group and has been met by the usual government silence. On October 17th Manor Care shareholders approved the deal by a whopping margin. Will Ryan or his counterpart call soon? I doubt it. My concern relates to a tangential issue regarding the new owner, the death of long term acute care hospital patients in post Katrina New Orleans.

The Carlyle Group, a huge private equity underwriter (PEU), just closed on its purchase of LifeCare Hospitals when Katrina side swiped New Orleans. LifeCare had the largest number of patient deaths in the storm's aftermath. Yet this fact never made President Bush's Lessons Learned report, despite video footage that showed him querying Mike Brown over how hospital patients fared. What some might see as incompetence, looks more like cronyism. Carlyle has to appreciate going into court for those wrongful death civil lawsuits with a federal whitewash.

Unfortunately, that didn't make the PEU boys on Pennsylvania Avenue happy. They morphed Bush's silence into complicity, claiming LifeCare patients became wards of the federal government once FEMA teams set up in New Orleans. With over twenty years in health care, including time as a Disaster Chair in a Texas Gulf Coast hospital, I've never seen such wording in any hospital disaster plans. Not only did LifeCare fail their patients in a time of extreme difficulty, they want the feds to take the hit. How will they do any better with Manor Care's 550 facilities in time of disaster? They botched LifeCare with only 21 facilities. The Times-Picayune reported:

In court papers, LifeCare argues that once the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard assumed control of evacuations and other emergency procedures in New Orleans during the flood, it was no longer responsible for the patients at Memorial. The patients essentially became wards of the federal government, not LifeCare, the company's attorneys argue.

There is a clear record for the Justice Department to see in this regard. So pick up the phone Ryan and call me? My concerns to date have been met with 18 months of government silence, despite repeated letters to elected leaders and various investigating agencies.

As for the SEIU protesting the sale, I can't say I have much resonance. The union's President, Andy Stern already called employer sponsored health insurance dead. That means one of two groups will pick up the tab, the government or the employee. George Bush's knuckle dragging on S-CHIP shows the feds won't step up. Why should I listen to a union that wants to take benefits away from their employees, or make them pay? The corporate/union fix is in on health care. From my view, unions aren't much different than the Carlyle Group. Each wants huge pots of money to manage. PEU vs. VEBA's, they all have a distinct odor...