Despite the worries of not-for-profit healthcare advocates, the number of for-profit hospitals in the U.S. actually dropped slightly last year.
According to data released last week by the Federation of American Health Systems, the number of for-profit hospitals declined by two last year, to 1,329. And the number of beds in those hospitals dropped by 1,013, to 182,403.
The Washington-based federation represents for-profits. Its data are current through Nov. 1, 1998, and include hospitals in Puerto Rico.
One of the country's leading critics of for-profit takeovers of not-for-profit hospitals attributed the stasis in the investor-owned sector to state hospital conversion laws.
"There's no question in my mind that the increased scrutiny and the numerous state legislatures that have acted or gotten involved . . . have slowed down the conversion process," said Linda Miller, president of the Washington-based Volunteer Trustees of Not-For-Profit Hospitals.
More than 30 states have passed laws increasing state and public scrutiny of deals that involve not-for-profit hospital sales to for-profit companies.
The decline in the number of for-profit hospitals is further proof that "the perception all across the country that the investor-owned are taking over the world was never really true," said Thomas Scully, president of the federation.
Scully said the data include the recent sell-off of hospitals by Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. A 21-hospital chunk was sold last year to a consortium of not-for-profit buyers.
According to the data, Columbia owned 290 hospitals in 1998, compared with 339 in 1997.
Despite the reduction in Columbia's hospital ranks, the overall number of for-profit hospitals remained almost flat because of acquisition activity by other chains.