Bankrupt St. Louis Hospital Fires Top Doctor, Cuts Costs Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

VICE

A small hospital in St. Louis that serves a densely populated, low-income neighborhood fired its CEO and faces cutbacks and a potential shutdown just as the city is being hit with an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Doctors and nurses say lives are at risk.

St. Alexius Hospital has struggled financially for years and is currently involved in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, which are being overseen by a court-appointed trustee from out of state. The bankruptcy trustee, an accountant and CPA, fired the CEO, who is a doctor, earlier this week in the name of eliminating management redundancies. City leaders and hospital staffers alike fear the trustee could liquidate the hospital amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which threatens to overwhelm the city.

According to interviews with St. Alexius’ former CEO, current doctors and staff, the trustee, St. Louis alderman Cara Spencer, and St. Louis mayor Lydia Krewson, as well as hospital documents and emails obtained by VICE, what’s happening at St. Alexius comes down to two groups of people trying to do their jobs in the middle of a national health crisis: The bankruptcy trustee and her team trying to maximize value, and doctors and public servants trying to care for patients and save lives.

“It’s terrifying to think that in this critical time, we’d be serving shareholders rather than a community,” said Spencer.

There is no doubt that the hospital needs help getting back on solid financial footing, but cutting patient care or even considering closing the hospital in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic would be disastrous for the city, said Cara Spencer, the St. Louis alderman.

“It’s my fear that they will be in the process of liquidating while we’re going through a global pandemic,” she said. “We’re already going to be squeezing our existing hospital resources through the crisis.

St. Alexius Hospital is located in one of the poorest and, according to Spencer, most densely populated areas in the region. Census Bureau data puts median household income in the majority-Black zip code in which it’s located at $32,851, less than two-thirds the state average.

“This is a very, very vulnerable community here,” she said. “And we need to ensure that we can have access to healthcare.”

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