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California hospital chain reports high rates of malnutrition

A California Watch report reveals that facilities managed by California hospital chain Prime Healthcare are reporting unusually high malnutrition rates in its Medicare patients. Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding, Calif. has reported that "16.1 percent of its Medicare patients 65 and older suffered from kwashiorkor, according to a California Watch analysis of state health data. That’s 70 times the state average of 0.2 percent."  Kwashiorkor is a form of malnutrition that "almost exclusively afflicts impoverished children in developing countries, especially during famines, experts say." Federal records show that such a diagnosis in Medicare patients can entitle the hospital to a bonus worth thousands of dollars.  Prime Healthcare is already under investigation for allegedly overbilling Medicare for a reported outbreak of  septicemia infections.  "In interviews and e-mails, Prime officials said their billing practices are legal and proper, and they insist the kwashiorkor reports are accurate, a reflection of how seriously the company takes the problem of malnutrition among the elderly."

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