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Are you less safe in a hospital owned by a private equity firm?

On Behalf of | Mar 15, 2024 | Medical Malpractice

Many hospitals are affiliated with universities. Some are run by religious institutions like the Catholic Church. A significant number are owned by corporations that run large networks of health care facilities.

Increasingly, private equity firms are buying hospitals – particularly those having a difficult time staying afloat financially. These firms can help hospitals keep their doors open and provide care that people in the surrounding areas would have lost otherwise. Should it be concerning, however, that they’re in business to make money for their investors? Certainly it should be, if that goal conflicts with what’s best for the patients the hospitals serve.

It should be noted that determining whether a private equity firm owns a hospital isn’t always easy, as information about these transactions often isn’t publicly available. One recently published study by JAMA looked at whether preventable adverse events are more likely to occur in hospitals owned by private equity firms than other hospitals. The results are troubling.

Which adverse events are most common?

Overall, these hospitals saw a rise in adverse events of 25% within three years of being purchased by a private equity firm compared to other facilities. In looking at specific adverse events, researchers found that:

  • Central line infections (involving central venous catheters) increased by nearly 38%.
  • Patient falls rose by 27%.
  • Bedsores increased by 25%

These and other preventable adverse events are often the result of understaffing. One researcher involved in the study says, “Reductions in staffing after acquisition could explain all of these findings.”

When hospitals try to save money by hiring fewer nurses and aides, there’s a serious effect on patient safety and well-being. Of course, hospitals are also facing a shortage of qualified nurses in this country because many nurses no longer want to work in hospitals or have left the profession entirely after years of being overworked and underpaid.

What about fatality rates?

If there’s any positive news from the study, it’s that the fatality rate in hospitals owned by private equity firms was not significantly higher — either while patients were in the hospital or within a month after they were discharged. However, hospital fatality rates generally are more dependent on patients’ medical conditions and overall health than the level of care they receive.

Regardless of who owns a hospital, you have the right to take legal action if you or a loved one has suffered harm or died because it failed in its duty of care. A good first step is to get experienced legal guidance to determine whether you have a case.