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Private equity firms now control many hospitals, ERs and nursing homes. Is it good for health care?

Published this morning by Gretchen Morgenson, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with NBC news. First in a series. She intends to write more about Steward in Massachusetts.

Some excerpts:

On April 2, well into the COVID-19 crisis, Steward Health Care, owned by Cerberus Capital, created a firestorm. It suspended intensive care unit admissions at Nashoba Valley Medical Center, a hospital in rural northeastern Massachusetts, and redeployed equipment and staff elsewhere to meet COVID-19 demand, according to a memo from the president of the facility. Hospitals aren't supposed to close such units without first notifying state authorities and holding community hearings.

Audra Sprague, a longtime registered nurse at the facility, said the move "completely took out an entire level of service. Anybody that needed ICU care, we didn't have one, we couldn't keep

Darren Grubb, a spokesman for Steward, said that the suspension has "not impacted patient care" at the facility and that state officials had "validated that the ICU at Nashoba Valley remains adequately staffed and equipped to care for clinically appropriate patients."

Sprague said she is proud to serve patients in the same hospital where her grandmother was a nurse. She said that the facility had previously been owned by a private company but that patient safety and staff treatment had worsened since Steward took over. So she joined the nurses' union.

"Even when you say something is unsafe, there's little change that comes out of it," she said. "They're not going to do a single thing that doesn't benefit them first and foremost."

Grubb called Sprague's view a "baseless, selective, hyper-generalized claim."

"We should not be running our health care system as a profit-making operation on steroids," said Eileen Appelbaum, an authority on private equity and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C. "Health care is not so much anymore about taking care of patients. It's way more about making money.”