Document Trail and Hundreds of Interviews Behind Award-Winning Project

By Sandy K. Johnson

Rosalind Adams was intrigued by mentions of subpoenas and a federal investigation buried in a long corporate report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

More than a year later, after interviewing more than 300 people, Adams came to a powerful conclusion: Universal Health Services, the nation’s largest for-profit psychiatric hospital chain, was keeping patients for as many days as their insurance allowed.

Three former UHS hospital CEOs confirmed what other employees told Adams: A business model that incentivized UHS staff to “use all the days on the table.”

Adams’ work is the winner of the National Press Foundation’s 2016 Carolyn C. Mattingly Award for Mental Health Reporting. Adams, an investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News, compiled her findings in a project titled “Intake.”

Universal Health Services owns more than 200 psychiatric facilities in 37 states that admitted nearly 450,000 patients in 2016. The company earned almost $7.5 billion in revenue from inpatient care that year, boasting profit margins of about 30 percent.

More than a third of the company’s revenue comes from tax dollars, through Medicare and Medicaid. Adams used billing codes to trace patterns in data from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

She also logged interviews with 175 current and former staff; conducted more than 120 additional interviews with patients, government investigators and other experts; and dug up dozens of documents and surveillance videos. Adams also mined public sources of complaints from patients and employees – everything from Yelp and Google reviews of hospitals to more formal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services complaints. She found former UHS employees on LinkedIn and the Wayback Machine. She tracked her growing body of information on searchable spread sheets.

The impact of her initial story was immediate – UHS stock tumbled. U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, demanded a federal inspector general investigation. Adams said the Department of Justice investigation that initially tipped her off is expanding.

Adams received the Mattingly award at a reception on May 23.

Subscribe on YouTube
Help Make Good Journalists Better
Donate to the National Press Foundation to help us keep journalists informed on the issues that matter most.