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Politics
These fact checks of North Carolina politics are a collaboration between PolitiFact and WRAL. You can hear them Wednesdays on WFAE's Morning Edition.

NC Sen. Jeff Jackson's claim about endangered hospitals was wrong, fact-checker says

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In this week's fact check, we look at a claim made by Democratic North Carolina state Sen. Jeff Jackson of Mecklenburg County. Jackson, who is running for the U.S. Senate, spoke about the need to help rural hospitals during a Democratic candidate forum in Greensboro earlier this month.

Here’s part of what he said: “The five most endangered hospitals in the country are all in our state.

Paul Specht of WRAL joins us to analyze Jackson's statement.

Marshall Terry: So, how about it, Paul? Is it true? Are the five most endangered hospitals in the U.S. in North Carolina?

Jeff Jackson
N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson

Paul Specht: It does not appear to be true. We can't find evidence to support that fact, and the key point of this fact check was his quote sort of comes across as if it's some sort of BuzzFeed list like, "Hey, check out the five most endangered hospitals in the country." And when I heard that, I interpreted it to mean the five hospitals that are most likely to close. But we couldn't find a credible list anywhere — by experts, by associations or anything like that — that sort of ranked hospitals by how severe their financial conditions are. At least not in a numerical order.

Terry: So, what is Jackson referring to here, then?

Specht: He was referring to a report that came out last year, 2020, by The Chartis Group, which is a research group that studies health care. And what they've done is they've found some financial documents of various hospitals across the country, and they developed a statistical model and determined that some hospitals are more financially vulnerable to closure than others. And so they categorize them by saying they are "vulnerable" or "most vulnerable." And so there are 216 hospitals across the U.S. that they considered to be in the "most vulnerable" category.

Terry: And so how many of those are in North Carolina? And how does North Carolina compare to other states?

Specht: Right. Six out of the 216 from that report are in North Carolina, and these are all in rural communities. But what we found in this report was that there are several states that have more hospitals that are in that "most vulnerable" category than North Carolina does. North Carolina has six. Texas has 41. Oklahoma has 17. Tennessee has 15. So, while it's fair to say that North Carolina has some hospitals that are suffering, it's misleading to suggest that our state is worse off than other states.

Terry: Does this study name these hospitals?

Specht: It does not. And that's another thing. When I when I heard this quote at this forum, I wondered, "OK, which hospitals are these? Should people in the community be made aware?" But no, these reports don't identify the hospitals.

Terry: Why does it not rank the hospitals in terms of which one is the most vulnerable in the country? And then on down on down the line?

Specht: Well, we reached out to The Chartis Group as well as other hospital associations at the national level and state level, and they all said that it's just sort of difficult. The only people who have the full picture of each hospital's financial health are the hospital managers and operators themselves. So, if you're an outside group looking in, you can sort of use publicly available documents to some degree to make a judgment call. But they said it's very, very difficult. Without having every last document from every last hospital, it'd be very difficult to rank them.

Terry: So, you said Jackson was referring to this particular study by The Chartis Group. What did he say when you reached out to him about this claim that he made?

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Photo courtesy of Paul Specht
Paul Specht

Specht: He said he meant to say that six of the most endangered hospitals in the country are in North Carolina. And if he had said that, that would be true. But that's not what he said. He said the five most endangered hospitals in the country are all in our state. And, you know, these might sound like small word differences, but there's a big difference in saying the five most endangered are in North Carolina and six of the most endangered are in North Carolina. There's a big difference there.

Terry: So, how did you rate this claim by Jeff Jackson, then?

Specht: We rated this mostly false because there is a big difference between saying, "Here are the five worst or five most endangered" and, "We have five or six of the most endangered," especially when this quote is given in a forum setting. These candidates, they were in Greensboro and they were all asked, you know what can be done to reduce costs on patients and on hospitals and reduce costs to the emergency departments.

When Jackson pulls out a stat like this, he's saying, "Hey, here's something else you may not know. The five most endangered hospitals in the country are all in our state." In that context, if you're in the audience trying to judge which candidate is most knowledgeable and he pulls out this quote, that might leave an impact. And that's why we feel like it's important to check it. This particular quote that he gave was mostly false.

Terry: All right, Paul, thank you.

Specht: Thank you.

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