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Mass. Senate passes amendment targeting hospital ‘VIP syndrome’

A budget amendment from the Mass. Senate would fine hospitals for giving special status to wealthy patients -- and for failing to report such infractions.
A budget amendment from the Mass. Senate would fine hospitals for giving special status to wealthy patients -- and for failing to report such infractions. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File/Boston Globe

During 23 years in the state Senate, much of it focused on health care, Senator Mark Montigny had seen a lot. But when he read about a prince who received special treatment at a Boston hospital, he said it angered him like few other issues.

Montigny, a Democrat from New Bedford, last week convinced his colleagues to approve a budget amendment to fine hospitals for giving special status to wealthy patients -- and for failing to report such infractions.

The Senate approved the measure, co-sponsored by Senator Michael Brady, a Brockton Democrat, unanimously in a roll call, Montigny said.

Montigny proposed the amendment after the Globe published a story about a Middle Eastern royal who stayed on the VIP floor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital for seven months in 2014.

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The Brigham was cited by the Department of Public Health for violations in the prince’s care, including not wearing protective gowns as required when a patient is diagnosed with a drug-resistant infection. The patient found the protective gear off-putting.

His personal aides were permitted to give him routine medications, and the prince gave thousands of dollars in gratuities to staff — both are forbidden by hospital policy. Nurses said they turned the envelopes over to managers.

The Brigham has said it cannot comment on the patient’s care because of confidentiality laws. But in a statement from hospital spokeswoman Erin McDonough, the hospital responded:

“As an organization, we believe that ‘best practice’ calls for every patient to receive the same standard of clinical care, and we strive to ensure that we are consistent in how we care for patients. We have been challenged by patients who assert expectations outside of our norms, and we know that we need to do a better job in educating staff about unintended consequences of such accommodations, and in supporting them when this occurs.’’

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The amendment, titled “Combating ‘VIP Syndrome’ to Protect Health Care Integrity and Quality,” decrees that “a health care provider shall not knowingly or intentionally designate, mark, label or confer any special status unrelated to medical diagnosis, treatment or care to a patient due to socio-economic status or direct relationship to the health care provider.’’

Providers must document and report violations to the state Department of Public Health within 72 hours. The department can impose penalties up to $5,000 per violation, or up to $50,000 for failing to report a violation. Reporters would be protected from retaliatory action.

The House and Senate will try to work out a compromise on the budget, and it’s unclear if the amendment will survive. Montigny said he’s hopeful. “It’s going to be hard for a lobbyist to justify killing the amendment,’’ he said.


Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at kowalczyk@globe.com.