BuzzFeed Investigation Showed KKR Put Profits before Patients, Resulting in Abuse and Neglect and Putting the Lives of Patients at Risk
Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee; Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Finance and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committees; Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee; and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, sent a letter to the Co-CEOs of the private equity firm KKR, blasting the company after a BuzzFeed News investigation revealed that following KKR’s acquisition of BrightSpring Health in 2019, the company provided grossly substandard care and unsafe living conditions in its intermediate care facilities (ICFs) – group homes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Executives at KKR and BrightSpring are poised to cash out while patient safety and care quality is declining. The senators are seeking answers from KKR about its troubling business practices, which put the safety of patients at risk.
“The BuzzFeed News investigation revealed that, after KKR’s acquisition, care at BrightSpring ICFs deteriorated, with regulators finding 118 instances of ‘dangerously low staffing’ in seven states – double the rate found in non-KKR owned facilities. During that same period, KKR boasted that the company increased BrightSpring’s revenue from $2.5 billion in 2018 to $5.6 billion in 2022. But there is no indication that these revenues were used to improve quality of care in ICFs: ‘conditions [at BrightSpring ICFs] grew so dire that nurses and caretakers quit in droves, a state prohibited the company from accepting new residents, and some of the most vulnerable people in its care suffered and died,’” wrote the senators.
The senators called out the long-standing problem of private equity’s role in health care – which places short-term profit maximization above considerations for quality of care and patients. While KKR’s BrightSpring-owned small-scale ICFs in California, Indiana, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia made up just 16% of ICFs, they accounted for a striking 40% of serious citations in these states. The BuzzFeed investigation revealed that nurses and other care workers had alarmingly high turnover rates, uncompetitive salaries, and inadequate training.
BrightSpring and KKR’s failure to protect ICF patients and efforts to maximize profits also resulted in preventable injuries and deaths. In West Virginia, state officials accused BrightSpring of ignoring several warnings that led to at least one preventable death, and ordered BrightSpring to stop accepting new patients, eventually closing down 20% of the organization’s homes in the state. Managers at facilities reported facing pressure to keep homes full, even with patients they were unable to care for, to maximize profits.
The senators called out KKR for choosing to pocket their profits instead of improving conditions for patients. BrightSpring’s KKR-controlled board loaded up the company with $1.1 billion in debt, and BrightSpring has paid out more than $135 million a year in interest on its loans. Meanwhile, BrightSpring CEO Jon Rousseau doubled his salary to $1.6 million in 2020. Now, KKR and BrightSpring executives who oversaw the company’s operations following the acquisition are poised for yet another payday. In October 2021, the company filed to go public in a $100 million initial public offering, citing its access to a “$1.5 trillion combined market opportunity.”
“We have long been worried about the deleterious impact of private equity on health care and patient care. Your company illustrates how private equity firms exploit the health care industry to squeeze out profits at every stage. Private equity has moved into health care services from rural hospitals to nursing homes and hospice centers to health care billing management and debt collection systems, exacerbating existing problems like surprise medical billing, inadequate training, and a lack of oversight and due process,” the senators continued.
The senators called on KKR to answer a set of questions about how its acquisition of BrightSpring Health has impacted patients by June 2, 2022.
Read the full letter here.