Yale-New Haven (Conn.) Hospital defended itself from allegations by Connecticut Attorney General Rich-ard Blumenthal that it withheld charitable money intended for indigent patients, touching off a volley of accusations.
In a lawsuit filed in Hartford (Conn.) Superior Court on Feb. 20, Blumenthal charged that the hospital was making patients jump through illegal hoops to qualify for the so-called free-bed funds-charitable trusts to support indigent care-in violation of its legal fiduciary duty (Feb. 24, p. 16).
Blumenthal last week told Modern Healthcare that his office is reviewing 500 similar free-bed funds at 25 Connecticut hospitals and is "actively investigating at least one other hospital," which he declined to name. It's the latest example of growing activism among state attorneys general in guarding charitable healthcare assets.
In a written statement, the 814-bed hospital claimed to have provided more than $52 million in free and uncompensated care in 2002. It said it approved 774 applications for free care, and has averaged 570 applications annually in recent years.
"The fact is that every dollar in income earned on our free-bed funds has been applied each and every year for free-bed purposes," the hospital said.
The hospital claimed its fund is $28 million, not $37 million as Blumenthal asserted. The hospital has increased the fund by investing the principal, reaping $721,000 for free-bed care last year, said hospital spokeswoman Katherine Krauss. If the hospital had kept the money in a bank, as Blumenthal seemed to want, she said, "we'd only have had about $40,000 to use."
In a response, Blumenthal called the hospital's reply self-serving, saying it "distorts the issues and purposely confuses the public through apples-to-oranges comparisons."
Blumenthal said the hospital counted taxpayer funding as part of the $52 million in free care, with much of that money representing the difference between hospital charges and Medicaid payments. Also, he said the hospital was reimbursed for at least $14 million of charitable care through the state's disproportionate-share program.
In a second statement, Yale-New Haven stood by its assertions. "It is hard to understand how two intelligent parties dedicated to the well-being of Connecticut's citizens could be so far apart given the facts," the hospital said.
Hospital officials said they were blindsided by Blumenthal's allegations, which apparently were based on information the hospital submitted to the state's Office of Healthcare Access in May 2001.
The hospital has yet to file a legal response in the case.
Blumenthal declined to comment on whether his office contacted the hospital before filing the suit. "It continues to be an active investigation for Yale-New Haven, and those facts speak for themselves," he said.