news, under noble health letterheadArrived Friday at 5:05 p.m. with the subject line: “Immediate notification.” Audrain Community Hospital, Paul Heumann’s 32-year-old office, was letting employees go.
Word travels fast in a small town. Heuman’s wife, Kim, first heard the bad news in the car when a friend who had received the letter also texted.
“Didn’t anticipate your ending,” said letterDated September 8 and signed to Platinum Health Systems, saying the firing was “permanent without recourse” and that “the medical facility will be closed.”
“I don’t know what my next steps are,” said Huhmann, 52, who oversees the lab at Audrey’s Hospital.
The future of Humane, hundreds of other workers, and thousands of patients in two small Missouri towns began to unfold long before that afternoon. The drama going on in Paul Heumann’s hometown is familiar to many living in rural America: communities so desperate to keep their hospital open that they are willing to gamble on any buyer backed by private equity.
Sometimes they lose.
Noble Health, a three-year-old private equity-backed startup, acquired Audrain and nearby Callaway Community Hospital during the pandemic. In March, it suspended all hospital services and subsequently fired 181 employees, state records performance,
Noble — facing staggering debt, more than a dozen lawsuits, and at least two federal investigations — struck a deal in April to sell hospitals to Platinum Neighbors, a Texas-based affiliate of Platinum Team Management and Platinum Health System. at the end of June, Platinum asked Missouri officials will extend the deadline for reopening hospitals until September 21. On Tuesday, Platinum officials told KHN that, “on Noble’s behalf,” they asked Missouri regulators for an additional 30-day extension “in an effort to explore all options for reopening these facilities, said Ryan Gordon, Platinum’s director of marketing. , “Backpay and health benefits of employees are of utmost importance.”
A few hours before the license deadline on Wednesday, Platinum submitted a request For 90 days variance. Missouri’s rules do not allow another extension within a year, said Lisa Cox, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. So the state “worked with them” and accepted the request, she said.
Platinum said hospitals need time to complete construction projects. According to the state’s approval letter, windows in Audrey’s “emergency room area” are broken, and Callaway’s hospital is in need of “serious plumbing repairs.” Cox said hospitals can change ownership over the course of 90 days.
Corey Countryman, president of Platinum Health Systems, confirmed the dismissals of the rest of the hospital staff. “We are working with several partners to reopen hospitals,” he said.
This may involve a new owner. One possibility is Georgia-based entrepreneur Owen Schuler, who said he is thinking about buying them. “I love what I see,” said Schuler, who reached the phone after visiting rural communities.
“It’s heartbreaking what has happened,” said Schuler, whose companies include Bankers Realty Corp. And Shuler Capital Corp., He said that if he had bought the hospitals, he would do so as the managing director of his new venture, Keiron Global. “In terms of due diligence, I don’t like what I’m watching and learning,” he said. What they concluded from their review is that “private equity and venture capital should be kept out of health care.”
On his LinkedIn profile, Schuler said that he “Brings lifelong perspective from family owned skilled care business“As well as” specializing in telemedicine and health services.
Schuler, who confirmed that hospitals were burdened with substantial debt — “in the ballpark” of $45 million to $50 million — said, “I’m not ready to go on record about business strategy just yet.” He said his approach would be “holistic” and would include telehealth. Many industry leaders have argued that telehealth is a way to bring high-quality medicine to rural communities that cannot, and need not, afford an entire cohort of on-site specialists.
“Our goal is to acquire hospitals in rural and underprivileged areas and introduce their capabilities to them,” Schuler said, adding that two “basically broken Missouri hospitals from the bottom up” try to move to a healthier system. would be easier than that.”
Still, it’s not clear whether Schuler or another buyer will come and what will take them to reopen after years of ownership instability and financial trouble.
Venture capital and private equity firm Nueterra Capital launched Noble? December 2019 Along with executives who had never run a hospital, including one co-founder, Donald R. Peterson, who was accused of Medicare fraud before joining Noble. Peterson settled the matter without admitting wrongdoing and agreed to be in August 2019 kept out for five years From Medicare, Medicaid and all other federal health programs, according to the Office of the Inspector General of Health and Human Services.
Federal regulators did not block the acquisition that Peterson was involved in. “All ownership and management control information is self-reported,” said Kristen Clemens, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
It didn’t take long for problems to emerge under the leadership of Noble Health. According to public records, Noble has accepted nearly $20 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds, including $4.8 million from paycheck protection programs.
Yet doctors, nurses and patients saw evidence that the new owners were skimping on services – failing to pay for and stocking up on surgical supplies and medicines. At Callaway, state inspectors determined that Hospital conditions distressed patients, Former workers who provided KHN bills and pay stubs said Noble had stopped paying for employee health, dental, vision and life insurance benefits.
After employees filed complaints about sudden medical bills, the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Protection Administration launched an investigation in early March, according to a letter to company and obtained by KHN. The department confirmed a second investigation by another of its divisions, Ways & Hours, at the Noble Management of its Audreyne Hospital and Clinics.
In April, Noble struck a deal to sell both hospitals for $2 and a stock transfer to Platinum, which assumed all liabilities, According to the contract, in the letter of 22 June “We are requesting this to continue as the Noble Health stock has been transferred to Platinum Medical Management,” Platinum said to state regulators regarding the hospital’s operating licenses.
While visiting hospitals in April, Countryman told staff that paying Noble’s outstanding salary was a “priority”.
Employees argue that neither Noble nor Platinum did well on it in months. In addition to the federal investigation, nine wage claims — the largest for $355,000 — have been filed against Noble in Kansas, according to data provided Via a Kansas Open Records ACT request.
By early August, other employees were recognizing the complaints. Principal, who provided dental and vision care coverage, letters sent Calling workers that it will not demand that any worker pay the insurer-covered benefits after Noble stops sending premiums for employee coverage. “This situation is not typical,” Prime spokeswoman Ashley Miller wrote in an email.
Humane, as the laboratory supervisor, was among the workers who had not been discharged in the spring. He reported going to work every day in anticipation of the reopening of Audrain Hospital. Humane checked the reagents and kept the machines running while supplies were tight.
“We got nothing,” said Heumann, “so we lived with what we had.”
Humane, who provided pay stubs to KHN, said he received a paycheck from Noble in late March. He said he didn’t get another paycheck until the end of May. He received regular salary in June and early July. But his second July check under Platinum was a week late. His last salary came on 8 August and he too was late.
His last seven checks came from three companies. They were all under the watch of Platinum: initially Platinum Neighbors issued checks, then Callaway County Community Hospital, and finally Noble Health Audrain Inc.
“Everyone cashed their check as soon as they got it,” Humane said. “There are a lot of red flags. But you know, we’re at their mercy, we have no control, and we’re still grateful that they’re saving us.”
Check stubs also show that hospital operators deducted a total of $1,385 from Humane’s pay for insurance. The medical insurance was supposed to be with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, but Humane said he never received the card and could not verify coverage.
“I called four or five times on different days,” he said. “They were never able to find me, no matter how they looked at me with Social Security or date of birth, or anything.”
Countryman referred all financial questions to Platinum’s corporate offices. Platinum Team CEO Ryan Cole did not directly respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
Some doctors left the city as the turmoil swallowed up hospitals.
Others, such as family medicine doctor Diane Jacobi and her nurse practitioner, Regina Hill, joined MU Health Care, which is affiliated with the University of Missouri in Missouri, Mexico, the 11,000-person city where Audrain Community Hospital is located.
Jacobi said his patients want local care. “I don’t know if you’re a mama, but if you’re in labor, the idea that you have to spend 45 minutes in the car on the way to the hospital is nerve-wracking,” she said. “It’s safe if you have the care.”
Lou Leonatti, a lawyer living in Mexico, said he felt so strongly that the community needed hospital and emergency care that he provided a loan to Noble last year so the company could meet payroll. Leonatti’s personal $60,000 loan, with an interest rate of about 3%, was due in January but, he said, remains unpaid.
Leonatti helped start Project Sunrise, a local economic development group. If no new agreements are reached, he said, “we want Plan B to be available.”
Peterson, who helped launch Noble’s failed attempts to commission two Missouri hospitals found his Plan B in Dubai. “I’m sitting in the Emirates Air Lounge in Dubai, marveling at the experience I get at 68 years old,” he wrote on linkedin, “I will be in Riyadh for the next week and do due diligence on starting a new business there.”
The post enraged Tony Linthacum, a nurse practitioner who worked at Audrey’s Cancer Screening Center for more than two decades. She said she “destroyed the lives and livelihoods of many people,” adding that “somebody has duped you like this” and “is going on without results. This is not what the world is supposed to be.” Is.”
Pietersen declined to comment.
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that conducts in-depth journalism about health issues. Along with policy analysis and polling, KHN is one of three major operational programs. kff (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a thriving non-profit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.
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