Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove Saint Thomas Hospital for Specialty Surgery as a plaintiff. The original complaint includes the facility but an official for parent organization Ascension Saint Thomas says the organization is not part of the lawsuit.
A group of 26 hospitals representing Franklin-based Community Health Systems and East Tennessee-based Ballad Health, among others across Tennessee, southwest Virginia and Kentucky have filed a civil suit against big-name opioid manufacturers, distributors and retailers.
The hospitals hail from one of the regions of the country most affected by the opioid epidemic and are seeking relief for the “massive amounts of care for which they have received little or no reimbursement.” Industry analysts estimate the country’s health care system incurred more than $215 billion in costs related to the opioid crisis from 2001 to 2017, mostly from overdose-related emergency department visits.
The complaint alleges the defendants — which includes Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Abbott Laboratories and more than 40 other companies and individuals — engaged in a decades-long practice of making false assurances about the risks associated with opioid products. It states the companies’ aggressive marketing tactics changed the way doctors prescribed the class of drugs, which resulted in widespread addiction and thousands of deaths.
“Hospitals continue to provide heroic levels of care to opioid-addicted patients and have saved countless lives,” Gary Brewer, an attorney with Brewer & Terry who is representing the hospitals, said in a press release. “But the financial, operational and emotional expense for hospitals, especially struggling rural hospitals, is astonishing. The defendants bear tremendous responsibility for the crisis they created.”
Notable along with the case are the companies not represented in the suit. Local health care giants HCA Healthcare and Vanderbilt University Medical Center appear to have opted out of the legal effort to hold pharma players accountable for the unprecedented health crisis.
“I suspect there are some hospitals and others in the caregiving business that are afraid that if they get into it, those who are on the defense side will point out that maybe hospitals were really the problem,” Gordon Gee, president of West Virginia University and head of the WVU hospital system, told WPLN on Thursday. “But of course, I think the evidence is clear that the hospitals were not the problem.”
WPLN further reported that the majority of hospitals that are members of the Tennessee Hospital Association, according to president Craig Becker, have opted to stay away from the legal entanglement.
VUMC and HCA Healthcare could not be reached for comment after business hours Thursday evening. A representative from CHS said the company doesn’t comment on litigation.
The hospitals filing suit are listed below. The Tennova Hospitals are owned by CHS:
• Bristol Regional Medical Center
• Dickenson Community Hospital, Clintwood, VA
• Franklin Woods Community Hospital, Johnson City
• Greeneville Community Hospital, Greeneville
• Hancock County Hospital, Sneedville
• Hawkins County Community Hospital, Rogersville
• Henderson Community Hospital, Lexington
• Holston Valley Medical Center, Kingsport
• Indian Path Community Hospital, Kingsport
• Johnson County Community Hospital, Mountain City
• Johnston Memorial Hospital, Abingdon, VA
• Lonesome Pine Hospital, Big Stone Gap, VA
• Mountain View Medical Center, Norton, VA
• Norton Community Hospital, Norton, VA
• Niswonger Children’s Hospital, Johnson City
• Russell County Hospital, Lebanon, VA
• Saint Francis Hospital, Bartlett
• Saint Francis Hospital, Memphis
• Smyth County Community Hospital, Marion, VA
• Sycamore Shoals Hospital, Elizabethton
• Tennova Healthcare-Clarksville
• Tennova Healthcare-Cleveland
• Tennova Healthcare, Jefferson Memorial Hospital, Jefferson City
• Tennova Healthcare, LaFollette Medical Center, LaFollette
• Tennova Healthcare-Lebanon
• Tennova Healthcare, Newport Medical Center, Newport
• Tennova Healthcare-North Knoxville and Turkey Creek
• Tennova Healthcare-Shelbyville
• Unicoi County Hospital, Erwin
• Woodridge Hospital, Johnson City