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Richmond coalition seeks commitments from Bon Secours

Bryce Robertson speaks to members of the newly formed Richmond Coalition for Healthcare Equity, which met for the first time Thursday at Mount Olivet Baptist Church.
Bryce Robertson speaks to members of the newly formed Richmond Coalition for Healthcare Equity, which met for the first time Thursday at Mount Olivet Baptist Church. (Photo: Patrick Larsen/VPM News)

The Richmond Coalition for Healthcare Equity, a new group of community members and organizations assembled by Richmond Together, is looking to mobilize East End residents in response to a New York Times story on Richmond Community Hospital in a series titled “Profits over Patients.” 

“It’s really sad,” said Elaine Sampson, who attended the new coalition’s first meeting Thursday night at Mount Olivet Baptist Church. “And for someone like Bon Secours to now be a partner, and it’s like [they’re saying,] ‘Oh, that’s the stepchild.’”  

In September, the Times reported that Richmond Community, which is owned and run by Bon Secours Mercy Health, has the highest profit margin of any hospital in Virginia. Despite that, the hospital has been reducing key services for years — its intensive care unit closed in 2017, it’s lost a range of specialists and has been slow to replace them or hasn’t replaced them at all. At the same time, Bon Secours has invested millions in facilities in wealthier parts of the city and surrounding counties. 

University of Richmond professor and community activist Thad Williamson, a coalition member, highlighted discrepancies in health outcomes between the East and West end. He used data from census tracts comprising the predominantly Black Fairfield and Creighton courts in the east, and the predominantly white Windsor Farms neighborhood in the west. 

Asthma, heart disease, diabetes and more are all more prevalent in the eastern tract, according to data Williamson presented. 

“While everyone needs good access to healthcare, state-of-the-art healthcare facilities are most needed here in the East End,” Williamson said. 

Richmond Community is supposed to benefit from a federal program called 340B – which allows the facility to purchase medicine at a discount, while charging close to full price to insured patients and their insurers, leaving the difference to be reinvested. Bon Secours registered a series of clinics in wealthier parts of the city through Richmond Community, allowing the hospital to buy deeply discounted drugs, despite a well-insured patient base. 

“Unfortunately, over the years, they’ve been taking that windfall and investing it everywhere but the East End,” said Bryce Robertson, a coalition member and former Richmond school board candidate. 

The group has a long list of requests. They want Bon Secours to invest 100% of its profits from the 340B program in low-income communities, especially the East End. That includes yearly donations of either 10% of its profits from the 340B program or $10 million yearly to community health organizations.  

As part of that ask, the coalition is also calling on Bon Secours to sign on to the American Hospital Association’s good stewardship principles for 340B. That would require a commitment on the part of the hospital system to publicly release details of how it uses the profits. 

In a statement to VPM News, Bon Secours Mercy Health spokesperson Jenna Green wrote that “Richmond Community Hospital maintains rigorous internal oversight of the 340B program so that we can continue to provide accessible, affordable, high-quality care through this and other programs that improve the well-being of the greater Richmond community.” 

The coalition is also asking its members to engage with Virginia’s U.S. representatives in the House and Senate. They’re pushing for Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner to hold congressional hearings on the 340B program and asking Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th) to reform the program. 

Representatives for Rep. Donald McEachin (D-4th) and Kaine were both present at Thursday’s event. 

Bon Secours’ Green told VPM News that the hospital system has been using “data and feedback from key stakeholders” for decades to determine how to respond to community needs. 

“Over the past two months, Bon Secours has met with more than 50 community members, city officials, and legislative representatives to address our ongoing commitment to the East End community, and to engage these stakeholders in the work we are actively doing to address the health needs of this community,” Green wrote in an email. 

Richmond Coalition for Healthcare Equity is holding another meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 15, also at Mount Olivet Baptist Church. A representative from Bon Secours will be present to discuss the coalition’s list of proposals.