By Jeffrey L. Boney
Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward Times
In response to the front page article that appeared in the Houston Forward Times (HFT) concerning Riverside General Hospital, July 9, 2014, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has announced that she is convening a Health and Human Services (HHS) Crisis Task Force to reassess the federal government’s position concerning Riverside General Hospital.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee, who represents the 18th Congressional District of Texas, is extremely concerned about the issues surrounding Riverside, in that the historic hospital sits in her congressional district.
“I spoke to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and indicated we are in a crisis position regarding the preserving of the historic Riverside General Hospital,” says Congresswoman Jackson Lee. “In helping to convene this Crisis Task Force, we want to work with HHS to use creative thinking in order to address the issues involving the resources and the future of this important hospital that has served the city of Houston for almost 100 years and would be a vital resource for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.”
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who replaced Kathleen Sebelius, was sworn in as the 22nd Secretary of Health & Human Services (HHS) on June 9, 2014.
The Legislative Affairs Department of HHS will lead the Crisis Task Force and they will be consulting with the Secretary of HHS and the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) as it relates to Riverside. Congresswoman Jackson Lee says that this Crisis Task Force will engage the state officials along with federal officials to be able to ascertain what monies Riverside General Hospital is still eligible for.
Community leaders and activists have been in an uproar and are calling on the Obama administration to release much needed funding they say is being withheld from one of the nation’s only functional Black hospitals, as punishment for the proven rogue actions of one executive back in 2012.
Back in February 2012, Mohammad Khan was arrested and charged in a $116 million Medicare scheme that paid kickbacks to patient recruiters and personal care home owners in exchange for directing residents to Riverside’s mental health clinics. Khan pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay health care kickbacks and five other counts of paying and offering to pay kickbacks for his role in the scheme and after his guilty plea, an additional $42 million in fraudulent Medicare claims were discovered, bringing the total to $158 million.
Supporters say that if Riverside does not receive the payments that are being withheld by the federal government, they may have to close their doors in six weeks.
“We should not be looking to close hospitals by federal action we should be looking to keep hospitals and healthcare services open,” says Congresswoman Jackson Lee. “I know the Obama administration supports that and we’re going to work towards a solution.”
Riverside General Hospital, originally known as the Houston Negro Hospital, was founded in 1927 in Houston, Texas. Riverside has a very rich history in the Greater Houston area and is equally rich in assets also. Riverside is a community-based non-profit acute care facility that owns at least six Houston area clinics and one in Dallas, with assets totaling approximately $100 million. Riverside is extremely important to the African American community, especially in the areas of medical care and the treatment of drug addiction.
Community leaders and activists are encouraged about the news of the Crisis Task Force, but are still concerned and calling on President Obama and his administration to acknowledge the current and historical relevance of this institution to the African American community and immediately release funds to Riverside so they can continue the good work they do in the community and make the necessary adjustments to implement the proper infrastructure to prevent future financial losses.
The HFT will keep its readers up to date on the latest happenings.