California Watch/The San Francisco Chronicle, February 22, 2011
Redding, near Mount Shasta, and Victorville, in the Mojave Desert, have little in common but an unusual statistic: In each city, a hospital has reported alarming rates of a Third World nutritional disorder among its Medicare patients. Kwashiorkor -- a Ghanaian word for "weaning sickness" -- almost exclusively afflicts impoverished children in developing countries, especially during famines, experts say. But in 2009, Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding reported that 16% of its Medicare patients 65 and older suffered from kwashiorkor, according to a California Watch analysis of state health data. That's about 70 times the state average of 0.23%. At Desert Valley Hospital in Victorville (San Bernardino County), the kwashiorkor rate among Medicare patients also was high -- 9% -- about 39 times the state average. Both hospitals are owned by Prime Healthcare Services. The chain is the target of state and federal investigations for allegedly overbilling the federal Medicare system by millions of dollars in connection with a reported outbreak of septicemia infections.