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NORTH NAPLES, FLA. • The company that owns Barstow Community Hospital was involved in a merger Wednesday, as the two largest for-profit hospital systems in the country joined in a multibillion-dollar transaction.
Community Health Systems, which owns BCH, acquired Health Management Associates Inc., with nearly 98 percent of HMA shareholders approving the sale. CHS expects to close the transaction, projected at $7 billion, by the end of January.
A small group of registered nurses from across the country gathered outside the Tiburon Golf Club to protest the merger.
Lisebeth Jacobs, communications specialist for National Nurses United, said the merger raises concerns about health care costs at BCH.
According to a study conducted by National Nurses United and the Institute for Health and Socio-Economic Policy, BCH has one of the highest markup rates for medical services in the state and country.
In a survey of more than 4,000 hospitals nationwide, Barstow Community Hospital was ranked fourth in the state with an 872 percent charge-to-cost ratio.
BCH came in at No. 39 overall in the nation.
“In other words, for every 100 dollars of cost, they charge on average $872,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs, a registered nurse, is among a group of workers in the health care industry who fear even higher markups at hospitals owned by CHS.
“There’s already been a lot of concern because these folks are really overcharging,” Jacobs said. “It’s about the fact that this little community hospital is about to become part of the largest for-profit health chain. They tend to buy up little hospitals in rural communities, and then they cost-cut and just cut corners on patient care.”
The merger has become a national issue since plans for the transaction were announced in August.
“It’s about hospital charge markups,” Jacobs said. “Our concern is the impact on the local patient care. Because they’ve already cut corners on equipment (and) the number of nurses assigned to patients. And this is happening all over. We’re in battle with them in West Virginia, Ohio, Northern and Southern California and Florida.”
Ruby Coddington, a registered nurse at BCH and a resident of Barstow for 35 years, said she’s concerned about the quality of equipment at the hospital as the merger becomes a reality.
“They’re spending all this money on a merger when we could be having better equipment,” Coddington said. “As nurses we want to help make the decisions on what’s best for patient care — making policies, buying equipment. CHS is reverting back to inferior equipment.”
A Barstow Community Hospital spokesperson referred inquiries to CHS. Attempts to obtain contact information for a CHS spokesperson were not immediately successful Wednesday.