RICHMOND, Va. -- The federal lawmaker who represents Richmond on Capitol Hill left a meeting with a Bon Secours hospital leader feeling troubled, angry and concerned.
Following an investigation by the New York Times titled 'Profits Over Patients,' U.S. Congressman Donald McEachin (D-VA) met with Bryan Lee, the president of St. Mary's and Richmond Community Hospitals, owned by the non-profit health system Bon Secours.
The NYT report said Bon Secours raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits through Richmond Community Hospital while simultaneously slashing critical resources, support, and equipment from that very hospital.
“The notion that they have no real ICU is beyond my understanding," McEachin said. "So the lack of those types of sort of basic emergency-type services at a hospital like Richmond Community is unacceptable. Completely unacceptable.”
According to McEachin, the explanation that Lee gave in the meeting for cutting resources is that Richmond Community didn't need those services because it experienced a lower volume of patients.
McEachin said that reasoning is "wholly insufficient" and a symptom of a "lack of access to care" -- not a "lack of need for care."
Richmond Community serves the city's East End, a community that is majority Black and low-income. People who experience both of those factors, according to medical experts, are at a higher risk of poor health outcomes.
"We know that poverty is an indicator of bad health outcomes. We know that an area like Richmond Community is going to be a need for dialysis, there's going to be a need for services dealing with heart cardiac services and the like," McEachin said.
Richmond Community qualified Bon Secours for the federal program 340B, which allows hospitals that serve low-income communities to buy medication for much lower costs while still billing patients and insurance companies close to full price.
The incentive is that Bon Secours would then invest those savings back into the facility and community, but McEachin said that's not happening as it should.
"It saddens me, but it also makes me very angry," McEachin said. "They get a huge savings on pharmaceutical products because of Richmond Community. That money doesn't flow back to Richmond Community. It goes to the other hospitals like St. Francis and St. Mary's."
He added, "It's just another example of poor Black folks being taken advantage of" and that Bon Secours is "clearly abusing" the program.
While McEachin still supports 340B, he said he's exploring legislative solutions that will ensure hospital systems use savings from the program to directly benefit the location that qualifies for the program, not other campuses.
"We want these monies reinvested in the Richmond Community campus, and that'll be our goal as we try to craft some legislation designed to really require these hospital systems to do the right thing," McEachin said.
Following the meeting, McEachin sent a letter to Lee demanding remedies to what he called "inequities in health care access."
He plans to continue following up with Bon Secours to further hold the hospital system accountable.
In response to McEachin's letter, a spokesperson for Bon Secours sent CBS 6 the following statement:
“We are grateful to Rep. McEachin for taking the time to meet, and for his support of the federal 340B drug program, which enables qualifying hospitals to receive savings on the cost of life-saving drugs when purchased from pharmaceutical companies, and helps provide drugs and care for all patients who seek it, regardless of their ability to pay. As discussed in the meeting, we remain committed to ensuring residents of our communities have access to high-quality health care. We also look forward to continuing our conversations with Rep. McEachin and other stakeholders, to identify and address the health care needs of our community.”