I thought it would be a happy story about bats

I was in the mood for reading more about bats, so when this news story popped up in my news feed, of course I had to read it: Scenes From the Bat Cave. What else would you expect but a nice bit of natural history? It wasn’t. It’s about crappy greedy capitalistic humans in Florida.

The Rockledge Regional Medical Center reeks of raw sewage and bat guano. No one knew that bat shit was called “guano,” or that the pungent smell emanating from the fifth-floor intensive care unit had bat guano as a source, until last spring, when a delirious patient complained he was being attacked by a “giant grasshopper,” which turned out to be a bat, which turned out to be one of what four nurses told the Prospect was estimated to be at least five thousand more.

The exterminators alleged in court that Steward Health, Rockledge’s corporate owner, never paid them the $936,320 they were owed for “evicting” the bats from the hospital, which sits roughly eight miles southwest of the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. And so when, a week or two before Christmas, the sinks on the second floor began backing up with thick, black gunk that smelled like feces of the human sort, the hospital’s in-house maintenance staff tried to handle the job themselves.

That’s the last we hear of the bats, and instead it’s all about the corrupt management of Steward Health, which apparently bought up a bunch of hospitals only to neglect them. They were in the business of scraping every penny of profit out of these places, and actually maintaining them would have meant less money for their corrupt corporate overlords, who had yachts to maintain instead.

In Massachusetts, where Steward was founded and owns nine hospitals, the company’s representatives have essentially ghosted the political class it wooed so effectively a decade ago, when de la Torre graced the cover of the Boston Globe Magazine and touted himself as the quintessential Obamacare success story. Over the past few weeks, Massachusetts politicians have railed against Steward, de la Torre, and his yachts, and Gov. Maura Healey last week instructed the company to leave the state “as soon as possible.”

They are leaving Massachusetts and moving to Florida, which has a more charitable climate for parasites and exploiters. Their hospitals there are a horror story — health care is ridiculously expensive, but do you think anyone is getting their money’s worth out of these toxic facilities?

Nurses provided the Prospect with dozens of photos and videos documenting maintenance problems at the hospital: water leaking out into the parking lot from one of the maintenance rooms, a giant oxygen tank sitting in the loading dock one nurse worries is “one drunk driver away from blowing the back wing of the hospital away,” the fourth floor “graveyard of broken beds” with unfulfilled work orders dating back to September, and sink after sink filled with black gunk, sealed off with “DO NOT USE” signs and months-old work orders. On the paper covering one of the sinks alleged on the work order to have a “terrible smell,” an employee had scrawled, “Fix me NOW!” and two others had playfully responded, “I’ve only been broke 2+ months! What’s the hurry?” and “NOT BEYOND STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS YET!”

Five of the building’s nine elevators have been nonoperational for the better part of the year, and only one or two of the working ones can properly accommodate a critical care patient. Paradoxically, this was an even bigger safety issue back before the bats were discovered, when patients who experienced complications during heart surgery needed to be shuttled up three stories to the ICU; now they can be raced down the hall to the relocated ICU, where half the sinks still have “Do Not Use” signs hanging over them.

Imagine how awful these places would be if they were in Canada rather than Florida. Somebody would be complaining about having to wait for service. Sewage filled sinks and bats fluttering about the ICU is a small price to pay for allowing rampant capitalism to flourish.

I’d rather read about bats than about selfish, greedy humans, I’m afraid.


  1. says

    Steward may be among the worst, but it’s not the only one. In general, private equity acquisition of hospitals has been found to be associated with a 25.4% increase in adverse events compared with control hospitals, including a 27.3% increase in falls, a 37.7% increase in central-line infections, and a 100% increase in surgical site infections. (Kannan et al JAMA. 2023;330(24):2365-2375. doi:10.1001/jama.2023.23147 )

  2. says

    Well, this article points out that (pardon the mixed metaphor) vulture capitalists are just bat-shit greedy and irresponsible! Hospitals should be the cleanest most responsible organizations. @1 cervantes is correct. Thus, I am compelled to repeat that this just proves that this society is largely a failure.

    p.s. I’m so glad that the disgusting ‘bluehost’ disaster has been (temporarily) thwarted. PZ shouldn’t have to battle to stay online. It should not be too difficult to setup a mirror site with another responsible host to avoid this.

  3. Hemidactylus says

    Rockledge Regional trying to live up to its original nickname Worst-off I see. A play on their previous name Wuesthoff.

  4. raven says

    Yeah, Steward is a huge mess and might well end up declaring bankruptcy.

    They are keeping going by loans from their creditors.
    They owe over $100 million to a lot of other companies.

    Some analysts have suggested the amount Steward owes MPT may be much higher than $50 million.

    Several lawsuits suggest Steward has other significant debts. One of the largest claims, filed in December, alleges Steward owes more than $45 million to ProLink Health Care, a health care staffing firm.

    Steward’s financial woes raise questions about for-profit health care
    February 01, 2024 Deborah Becker

    While the fate of Steward Health Care’s nine hospitals in Massachusetts remains in doubt, lawmakers and others are discussing what — and who — is to blame for the precarious state of the medical system. Many are pointing fingers at the role of for-profit companies, like Steward, in health care.

    In a meeting last week with congressional staffers, Steward executives said the company plans to leave Massachusetts, according to U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, who was briefed after the meeting.

    According to Lynch, Steward executives told his staff the situation is “urgent” at four of the company’s hospitals: St. Elizabeth’s in Brighton, Norwood Hospital, Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill and Methuen, and Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer. The company indicated it would halt the planned reconstruction of Norwood Hospital, a 200-bed facility that closed after flooding in 2020.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    In Massachusetts, they (eventually, sort of) investigate and (promise to) do something about sleazy hospital operators.

    In Florida, we elect them to the US Senate.

  6. robro says

    The practice of our long-time primary care physician was bought out by OneMedical about 10 years ago. One Medical hasn’t been “bad” beyond the typical bureaucratic snafus. However, OneMedical was purchased by Amazon a year or so ago. They have already done some “cost cutting” to reduce “redundant” staffing. We’re hoping to keep seeing our old friend until she retires and before Amazon/OneMedical slide into total disarray.

    Health care should not be dependent on actuarial analysis.

  7. says

    Why isn’t the FDA or a state agency coming down on these people like a ton of bricks?

    Curbing the excesses of capitalism should be one of the basic functions of any government.

  8. robro says

    rsmith @ #7 — Why isn’t a state agency doing something about this? It’s Florida. Florida government is owned by the GOP, and has been for decades. The GOP is owned by capitalists. The basic function of any government, as far as they’re concerned, is to help capitalists maximize their profit.

  9. Some Old Programmer says

    The Boston Globe has been reporting on the disaster that is Steward Health for a number of weeks now. It’s reported that patients have died because necessary medical equipment has been repossessed. Apparently the private equity firm cashed out by selling the hospital buildings and land and renting them back. They cashed out, saddling the company with what would seem to be unsustainable expenses. The Globe has also reported that the CEO (de la Torre) owns two yachts.

    Apparently they haven’t given the state required financial information for some time. Governor Healey has demanded the information be submitted, but has described what Steward Health sent over as incomplete. I would be astonished if this whole mess isn’t being scrutinized by the Massachusetts AG.

  10. Hemidactylus says

    From the Prospect article PZ quoted comes a smell even more pungent than guano:

    Perhaps most noteworthy, Randy Fine, the powerful chair of the state legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee who represents a district a literal stone’s throw from Steward’s Melbourne hospital, also failed to return an email and phone messages from the Prospect, though the former casino executive has been driving the region’s hospital agenda for months over his aggressive campaign to privatize Brevard County’s last community-owned hospital, a proposal that could easily condemn yet another health care institution to Rockledge’s ghastly fate—and the stated reason one 25-year nursing veteran contacted the Prospect to blow the whistle on conditions at the hospital.

    This cowardly Randy Fine:

  11. microraptor says

    This is why Oregon’s trying to pass a law that puts limits in how many hospitals a private for-profit organization can own.

  12. says

    PZ, Canadian hospitals have their own physical problems. At one point late last year St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon was so crowded Saskatoon Fire Department found patients being housed in the hallways violated the fire code.
    A decade ago Royal University Hospital had several rooms closed because part of the roof was leaking. This was at a time that proposals for what became Jim Pattison Chidlren’s Hospital were under discussion, and arguably were sucking funds and attention from funding existing medical infrastructure.

  13. WhiteHatLurker says

    Not mentioned in the story about St Paul’s is that the patient blocking the fire exit was the one who called the fire marshals about her situation and the over crowding.

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