Legislators in the state of Louisiana are calling for an investigation into allegations that Ochsner Health System in the New Orleans area sent patients home or into hospice despite objections from their families. A ProPublica investigation revealed the allegations earlier this month.
Members of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus have called on Gov. Jon Bel Edwards, a Democrat, to direct the state Department of Health and its COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to look into the hospital system’s activities, ProPublica indicated. Most of the families who reported concerns about Oschner’s discharge practices were African American.
“This information is very disturbing for us as leaders of our state to read,” wrote state Sen. James Harris III and state Rep. Barbara West Carpenter, the chairperson and vice chairperson of the caucus in the request sent to the governor. “Many people normally do not question medical practitioners because they feel they are right with their prognosis, diagnosis and decisions they share with the patients.”
In New Orleans, about 17% of COVID patients age 85 or older died in their homes, compared to 4% nationally, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of these patients were discharged from the Ochsner Health hospital network, which treated 60% of coronavirus patients in the New Orleans area, ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization, reported.
A number of the families who had this experience told ProPublica that they felt pressured by the hospital to take their COVID-positive loved ones home despite their objections, with clinicians often citing a lack of beds or a need to make room for incoming patients. The families indicated that their loved ones frequently died in pain and that the virus spread to least two individuals due to these practices.
“All hospice providers must be committed to delivering the highest-quality, person-and family-centered care that not only meets but exceeds federal guidelines. It is our job as providers to ensure that all the individuals that elect hospice are eligible and receive care in a timely manner,” said National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization President and CEO Edo Banach in a statement on the ProPublica investigation. “I would also remind providers that standard practice dictates that you do not accept a patient if it is beyond your capacity to provide necessary and appropriate care for them. This is nothing new, this is clearly outlined in the Medicare Hospice Conditions of Participation.”