According to the New York Times report, the Senate investigation will focus on Select Medical Corporation, which operates 89 long-term for-profit care hospitals across the US and boasts more facilities than any other company.
The Times detailed an incident that allegedly occurred at a Select facility in Kansas, in which a dying patient's heart alarm sounded for more than an hour before help arrived. By the time nursing staff finally responded, the patient had been in distress for 77 minutes.
On March 8, Senators Max Baucus (D-Montana, the committee's chairman) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the panel's senior Republican, demanded that Select provide more information about the allegations. Select Medical indicates it would cooperate fully with the inquiry, although a spokeswoman claimed that Select viewed the Times article as misleading and inaccurate.
Other complaints lodged against Select and subject to investigation come from former employees of the company, who have detailed a discharge policy that seems to put profit ahead of patient well-being.
Under Medicare rules, hospitals that treat patients for 25 days or longer earn higher Medicare payments. Former Select employees allege that the company presses to keep patients for 25 days, then tries to discharge them almost immediately in an effort to maximize profitability. At some Select hospitals, the New York Times reported, the twenty-fifth day is known as the "magic day."
In a lawsuit concerning the death of 79-year-old Ruth Tanner, a patient in a Select hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a doctor provided a deposition claiming that nurses at the facility injected the "relatively-healthy" Tanner with 10 times the appropriate level of insulin, then waited 90 minutes after the woman had slipped into a coma before notifying her doctor. Tanner never regained consciousness, according to medical records and the lawsuit. She died in early 2009, a month after the incident.
The owners of Select have earned $400 million since founding the company in 1996. Recent company announcements revealed that profit margins had risen 19 percent in 2009, compared to 16 percent the year before. Cash flow increased by $54 million.
The Government Accountability Office has been asked to examine federal and state oversight of all long-term care hospitals.