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Is a private equity-owned hospital less safe for patients?

It’s likely not reassuring to any potential patient to learn that a private equity firm has purchased a nearby hospital. This has been a trend in the past couple of decades as many hospitals have struggled financially. 

After all, a private equity firm’s main goal is to turn a profit. That goal can conflict with what’s best for patients. The findings of a newly published study support that.

What preventable adverse events are more common in these hospitals?

According to the JAMA study, the number of “adverse events” in a hospital purchased by a private equity firm rose by 25% within three years compared to other hospitals.

Central line infections rose by almost 38%. A central line, also known as a central venous catheter (CVC) is used to give patients medications and fluids through one of their primary veins. These infections are considered completely preventable.

There was also a 27% increase in patient falls. Falls are often the result of understaffing because patients often get up on their own to use the restroom or some other reason if no nurse or other staff member responds to their call. The rate of bedsores rose by 25% — also a sign of a lack of attention.

While staffing shortages, particularly among nurses, are a problem in many hospitals and other health care facilities like nursing homes, the researchers cited cost-cutting measures popular with private equity firms as a reason for staff cuts. One lead researcher said, “Reductions in staffing after acquisition could explain all of these findings.”

What about death rates?

The good news is that the private equity-owned hospitals studied didn’t have a higher rate of patient deaths either during or within the month after discharge. However, death rates are often a reflection of the health and medical condition of patients in the hospitals rather than the quality of care they receive.

If you want to find out whether your local hospital is owned by a private equity firm, that may not be as easy as you think. The transactions don’t have to be public information. Making these transactions public and providing more oversight of them are reforms that the U.S. Congress has managed to find rare bipartisan agreement on.

If you or a loved one has suffered harm in a hospital that you believe could and should have been prevented, it’s wise to get experienced legal guidance as soon as possible. You may be able to seek justice and compensation.