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CNN AC360 Dr. Sanjay Gupta Covers our Attorney General Complaint Re: Discrimination in NYC Hospitals

July 18, 2009

Bronx Health REACH Attorney General Complaint to be featured on CNN’s AC 360
Segments Produced by Dr. Sanjay Gupta – Monday July 20
10pm-12midnight [1]

Monday night, July 20, 2009, on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, Dr. Sanjay Gupta will be airing a two-part segment on racial discrimination that results from separate and unequal care provided by private teaching hospitals in New York City. Since 2005, Bronx Health REACH has shown, through its research efforts, that in many institutions in NYC, people covered by Medicaid and those who are uninsured are routinely treated in separate hospital-based facilities and by different providers than those who have private insurance. Furthermore, inadequate after-hours coverage, absent communication back to referring providers, and limited appointment availability all create disparities in care and lead to worse health outcomes. Because 16 times as many African-Americans and Latinos in the Bronx are covered by Medicaid or are uninsured compared to Whites, this creates de facto discrimination based upon race, a practice that is both immoral and illegal.

As you may remember, in June 2008, Bronx Health REACH, a coalition of community-based, faith-based and other organizations led by the Institute for Family Health, filed a civil rights complaint with the Office of the Attorney General of New York State. This complaint and the allegations contained in it were prepared and filed on behalf of Bronx Health REACH by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI).

Through multiple visits to New York accompanied by his producer and film crews, Dr. Gupta has interviewed faith leaders, patients, and REACH staff to bring this issue to light. The REACH Coalition has been working in the Bronx for nearly a decade to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes for patients with diabetes and heart disease. Our hope is that national exposure of this issue will help end these practices in New York City and will make sure that equality in health services becomes part of our Nation’s health reform agenda.

REACH began its investigation of the out-patient referral practices of three hospitals named in the complaint – Montefiore, NY Presbyterian, and Mt. Sinai – after hearing multiple stories shared by patients in the coalition’s member organizations, as well as learning the experiences of primary care providers seeking to obtain out-patient specialty care for their patients. In consultation with researchers from New York University, hundreds of scripted phone calls were made and recorded over a period of months to the physician referral lines of the named institutions. In addition, REACH obtained the recorded testimony of a number of patients who experienced this discriminatory care and suffered because of it.

Our research findings show systematic channeling of patients into different care systems based upon their type of insurance – or lack thereof. As documented in our complaint and other findings over the years, it is commonplace for New York’s voluntary teaching hospitals to separate patients at the point of entry to their outpatient practices into two systems of care: their clinics and their faculty practices. Worse yet, while the faculty practices function the way we would all want to get care—with good continuity, reports sent back to the primary care providers, after-hours call by the group’s doctors, and access to the best that New York medical care has to offer—the clinics offer patients a rotating group of residents and fellows with little or no continuity of care; provide no communication with the primary care providers who referred their patients there for care; and often refer patients to the Emergency Room if they have questions or problems after-hours. Given this difference in care systems, differences in outcome should come as no surprise.

I know you all believe we can do better than this. We must do better, particularly as we promote the concept of medical homes for patients throughout New York State, and health reform at the national level. The vast sums of money that the State and Federal government put into health care for those who receive Medicaid and the uninsured obligate us to do better. In fact, recent increases in Medicaid out-patient rates mean that hospitals are now, in many instances, getting paid more by the State than private insurance is paying for their covered patients – and getting inferior care.

For far too long the health care system has blamed patients for their own poor outcomes, pointing to their delays in seeking care, their inadequate follow-up with appointments and their lack of compliance with treatment. The experience of the more than 100 primary care providers at the Institute for Family Health, and the experience of the members of the organizations of the Bronx Health REACH coalition tell a different story. New York’s voluntary teaching hospitals have created clinic systems that are difficult to negotiate, that provide care that patients quickly realize is not the best the institution has to offer, and that severely jeopardize their health and their lives. While these factors alone do not explain the 7 to 8 year decrease in life expectancy that Blacks and Latinos experience in the U.S., nor the increase in hospitalizations for conditions that are treatable in office settings and the excess morbidity and mortality suffered by people of color for almost every disease studied, we must change those aspects of our health care system that contribute to these tragic and disparate outcomes.

Filing a complaint with the Attorney General was a last resort to fix a problem I have been addressing on behalf of Bronx REACH and the Institute for nearly a decade. I have met personally with leadership from a number of voluntary teaching institutions in New York City, have presented findings of our studies at dozens of professional meetings, have had multiple discussions with the Greater New York Hospital Association leadership, and have discussed this issue with the former Commissioner and senior staff of the NYS Department of Health on multiple occasions over the years. In 2005, we published a report Separate and Unequal: Medical Apartheid in New York City, which received substantial press coverage and resulted in a number of public responses from voluntary hospitals. In private discussions, many agree that systems should be changed, but there has been no motivating force to stimulate this change.

I expect that the institutions named will once again be highly critical of the complaint and the CNN report, and will defend their practices in the same ways they have previously. First they will claim that faculty practices are not part of the institution but are merely affiliated private practices. This argument is both spurious and irrelevant. Personnel who are paid by the hospital and staff their physician referral lines, facilities that are licensed to the hospital, and systems that the hospital has established are sending people down different paths of care based upon their insurance status.

Next they will claim that billing requirements make it essential that clinics are run separately. This is also not true. Nothing prohibits privately insured patients from being seen in a hospital licensed out-patient facility, and doing so would not jeopardize private insurance payments in any way.

Finally, some will claim that they will be unable to attract patients from the suburbs and from outside the country if the services they offer must be integrated with the care of clinic patients. This is perhaps the most disturbing rationale of all. I invite leadership of these institutions to come to our Institute practices where corporate executives, patients referred from our homeless centers for follow-up, and a broad cross-section of New York comes for care, sit in the same waiting room and all have access to the best care we have to offer. As health care providers we, of all people, need to demonstrate a commitment to ending discrimination based on insurance status with the disparate impact it has on racial and ethnic minorities.

Traditions and long-standing systems do not die easily, but this one can and must. We have encountered a number of departments at each of the institutions where department leadership—either for moral or practical reasons—have decided to integrate the care of all patients into the same system. Hospital leadership should take note of these successful models in their own institutions and adopt their practices broadly and completely. Nothing less than that will provide our patients with the care they deserve and nothing less than that will help to eliminate the disparities in care that continue to exist in our institutions.

Please make time to watch Anderson Cooper 360 on Monday night, and share your thoughts with us by commenting on this blog. Please join me in encouraging our colleagues in voluntary teaching hospitals across New York City to address this longstanding injustice and inequity in care.
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[1] As with all news broadcasts, changing current events may necessitate changing the broadcast date or time of these segments

About

A blog dedicated to the fight for social justice, logic, efficiency, quality and compassion in the way health services are delivered, paid for and regulated. My hope is to engage with you in a bold conversation of health care issues – and share my perspective as a physician, as CEO of a non-profit health care system, and as one who seeks to make the lives of those around him happier and healthier.

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