Hospital System Profits at the Expense of Patients and Staff

By Consumers for Quality Care, on January 11, 2023

Hospital System Profits at the Expense of Patients and Staff

The New York Times recently published an investigative article that highlights one of America’s largest hospital systems putting their bottom line above the safety of patients and staff.   

The Times examines how Ascension, one of the country’s largest nonprofit health systems, has drastically cut nurses and support staff in many of its 139 hospitals around the country all to cut costs and maximize profits. Many hospital and medical systems have pointed to COVID-19, staff burnout, and the tight labor market as the reasons for staff shortages. However, Ascension started cutting medical personnel in 2019 before COVID-19 had entered the United States. The Times concentrated its investigation on two hospitals in Ascension’s network, St. Joseph in Illinois and Genesys in Michigan. Scores of interviews with a variety of high-level executives, medical staff, and administrative staff were conducted and 3,000 documents were reviewed to understand how Ascension went to great lengths to keep staffing costs as low as possible. 

Nurses described feeling overwhelmed with the number of patients they were assigned and unsafe conditions they were forced to work in. They also described their personal feelings and guilt they felt. Jillian Wahlfors, a nurse at Genesys, stated, “You feel awful because you know you’re not turning these patients. You know they’re getting their meds late. You don’t have time to listen to them. They’re having accidents, because you can’t get in fast enough to take them to the bathroom.”  

Medical academics and professors were consulted and analyzed Ascension’s shift staffing levels, patient to nurse ratios, and other logistical practices their hospitals used. But the results ended up leading to more questions than answers with Linda Aiken, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, stating: “The complexity and the lack of transparency, all of these things make it impossible to try and figure out exactly what’s going on.”

Nonprofit hospitals should not be allowed to rake in massive profits for their executives at the detriment of nurses and support staff. CQC urges lawmakers and regulators ensure that nonprofit health systems are part of the solution in our country’s health care system and not part of the problem.