Oct. 9, 2018 -- Karl Dean is caught spreading misinformation in his recent campaign ad on rural hospital closures. Even worse is that after confronted on the ad's inaccuracies, Dean's campaign is standing by the claims, refusing to correct the lies.
"Karl Dean talks about the importance of transparency but willingly spreads misinformation in his ads," said Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden. "His campaign is exploiting the closing of rural hospitals for political gain with no regard for how the lies are negatively impacting those rural communities. These are the actions of career politicians, willing to say anything. This is not the leadership that Tennessee wants, and that is why voters will elect Bill Lee in November."
From the Tennessean:
A map of Tennessee is seen on the screen as the list of hospital names appear one by one over rural counties across the state.
"Since 2010, nine rural hospitals have closed in Tennessee," the television reporter says. "A lack of Medicaid expansion is playing a major role."
The clip, which appears in a recent ad for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Karl Dean, and the corresponding statistic are used to support Dean's platform of Medicaid expansion, which the campaign ties to rural hospital closures.
The ad, which appeared on television and online, tells the story of Greta Sanders, who was a medical technologist at Haywood Park Community Hospital until it closed in 2014 as it was losing revenue.
While residents in Haywood County lost local access to both lifesaving and routine preventative services, and were left 35 minutes away from the nearest emergency department, that's not the case for all the communities featured in the NewsChannel 5 clip used in the ad.
Multiple hospitals listed have indeed shuttered completely.
Those include Copper Basin Medical Center in Polk County; Tennova Healthcare McNairy Regional in McNairy County; and Haywood Park and Gibson General Hospital in Gibson County — though the latter closed after being acquired by West Tennessee Healthcare, which operates a full-service hospital several miles away in Milan.
But three of the communities experienced a hospital merger, change of ownership or change of services at a hospital campus, but still have a fully operational hospital with both in-patient and out-patient services. Those include Starr Regional in McMinn County and St. Mary’s in Scott County — which eventually became Big South Fork Regional Medical Center — and United Regional Medical Center in Coffee County.
Two of the hospitals, Parkridge West in Maury County and Humboldt Medical Center in Gibson County, ceased offering in-patient services but continue to operate, providing 24-hour emergency rooms and out-patient services.
In Coffee County, Medical Center of Manchester and United Regional Medical Center merged in 2015 when United Regional acquired the hospital three miles down the road, becoming Unity Medical Center.
"I don’t think it's correct to report that the hospital closed, because they merged and no services were lost in the community," said Bappa Mukherji, chairman of the board of Unity Medical Center. "All of the services that were offered at the two hospitals are continuing to be offered. In fact, we've been able to expand the services offered due to consolidation."
They've recently started offering more procedures, including vascular surgery and total joint replacement for residents in the region, and have since built an opioid treatment center the hospital is planning to expand.
While the community has experienced a net loss of beds — Unity now has 49, compared to the previous 54 at United Regional and 25 at Medical Center of Manchester — Mukherji said neither hospital ever fully staffed for their licensed number of beds.
"Our average daily census is in the high teens," he said.
He said he understands that some other rural hospitals have to change their business models to focus on outpatient services — as Unity has done despite keeping inpatient treatment — in order to stay operational amid the changing healthcare landscape.
Following the airing of the news story and Dean's ad, Starr Regional Medical Center began receiving calls from confused patients and community members, said Michelle Augusty, a vice president for LifePoint Health, which owns Starr's two campuses there.
While the graphic lists "Starr Regional" in McMinn County among the closed hospitals, its Athens campus remains a full-service inpatient facility. Its Etowah campus still has a 24-hour emergency room and offers outpatient services.
"Please rest assured that Starr Regional Medical Center, both the Athens and Etowah campuses, are open and committed to serving McMinn and surrounding counties," the hospital said in a statement, referring to misinformation circulating in the county. "We are working to correct this error and prevent further confusion among our employees, patients and community."
In response to questions about whether the campaign believed the graphic and numbers used in the ad were inaccurate, Dean spokeswoman Paige Hill said they stood by the advertisement and did not consider the information misleading.
The original news story referenced in the ad aired before the closure last month of McKenzie Regional Hospital.
Read full story here.