Healthcare takeover bid approved, despite nurse concerns

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Nurses represented by the AFT traveled to the Health Management Associates shareholders meeting in Naples, Fla., on Jan. 8 to challenge the HMA board to answer questions about the effect a proposed merger with Community Health Systems would have on patient care.

The nurses, who work at CHS-run hospitals, were able to raise their concerns, but not until after the vote to approve the merger—and a generous package of "golden parachute" bonuses for HMA brass—was completed.

Asked if he was denying a chance for questions and discussion prior to the vote, HMA Board Chairman Steven Shulman answered, "Yes I am."

Nurses are concerned that the proposed sale is a questionable proposition with serious implications for patient care and shareholder value. After the vote was completed and the merger approved, nurses were allowed to finally raise their concerns.

"As a registered nurse, quality care is paramount," said Lorraine Seidel, CEO of the National Federation of Nurses. "What is the thinking on how this merger can benefit patient care?"

Kimberly Darnell, an RN at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center in Springfield, Ore., grilled the board about lavish bonuses approved for top HMA brass. She did not receive an answer but was glad she and other nurses were able to confront the board.

"The first and only time 'quality care' was mentioned was when we raised it," she said.

The nurses asked why the financially underperforming HMA, which is facing a U.S. Department of Justice investigation and lawsuits for alleged Medicare fraud, wants to merge with CHS, a corporation facing the same scrutiny.

They asked about the effect CHS' cost-cutting practices, as well as its practice of trying to deny nurses the right to speak out about workplace issues, will have on the quality of patient care.

And they suggested that HMA's reputation and shareholder value could be better served if the resources involved in financing the purchase of CHS were spent instead on improving patient care, engaging the community and treating nurses as valued partners.

"As nurses, we have an ethical responsibility to stand up for quality care," Darnell said. "That's why we were here today, and that's why we will continue to speak up."

The AFT ran an ad in the Naples Daily News on Jan. 8 detailing its concerns about the corporate merger. "As an organization that represents 2,000 employees of HMA and CHS, and that represents members and retirees who are shareholders with more than $1 trillion in pension fund assets—including investments with HMA and CHS—the American Federation of Teachers recommends a 'no' vote on this questionable transaction," the ad states. [Scott Stephens, AFT press release]