Editor's Corner

You know, if this is what "non-profits" do, I'd hate to see the wrath a for-profit hospital would have visited upon the homeless, desperately-ill Carol Reyes. Steal the clothes off of her back? (Oh, wait, it seems someone did that, too.)

As you'll see below, Kaiser Permanente's Bellflower hospital did indeed take care of Ms. Reyes for a few days. To my knowledge, no one has suggested that the inpatient care Kaiser provided was anything but appropriate and respectful. But if the recent charges filed against Kaiser are accurate, when those three days were up, she was bum-rushed out the door and onto the street, seemingly without an effective discharge plan, without her own clothes or even a pair of shoes on her feet. To say the system failed is an understatement.

Yes, I realize that there are countless clinicians working in non-profits who would never countenance this sort of behavior, including, no doubt, many who work at the Bellflower facility. And I'm confident there's not a hospital exec reading this who's ethically comfortable with kicking sick old ladies to the curb, even if said ladies are costly to treat.

Still, if the notion of being a non-profit is so wispy that you can't tell the for-profits from the charities, something is terribly wrong. This goes beyond whether charity hospitals are providing enough free care--it's more about whether non-profit hospitals actually "feel" like charities to the people who come through their doors. Even if executive staffers have the right ideas, it's no good if they haven't gotten buy-in from line workers. After all, it's a good bet that harried staff-level employees, rather than the CEO, called the confused 63-year-old woman a cab. (I'm also guessing that Kaiser Bellflower employees were under great pressure to move patients in and out, rather than being incented to do the right thing.)

I know that in reality, a non-profit has to keep the lights on using the same cold cash as a for-profit facility, and that non-profits who run at a loss won't stay open forever (see story below). But if you aren't going to take care of the desperate and needy--and you don't make sure that everyone sees it as their job to treat them well--what's the point of staying in business anyway? -Anne