Ohio hospital contests a story Clinton tells
By DEBORAH SONTAG
Saturday, 5 April 2008
OVER THE last five weeks, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of has featured in her campaign stump speeches the story of a health care horror: an uninsured pregnant woman who lost her baby and died herself after being denied care by an Ohio hospital because she could not come up with a $100 fee.
The woman, Trina Bachtel, did die last August, two weeks after her baby boy was stillborn at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital in . But hospital administrators said Friday that Ms. Bachtel was under the care of an obstetrics practice affiliated with the hospital, that she was never refused treatment and that she was, in fact, insured.
“We implore the Clinton campaign to immediately desist from repeating this story,” said Rick Castrop, chief executive officer of the O’Bleness Health System.
Linda M. Weiss, a spokeswoman for the not-for-profit hospital, said the Clinton campaign had never contacted the hospital to check the accuracy of the story, which Mrs. Clinton had first heard from a Meigs County, Ohio, sheriff’s deputy in late February.
A Clinton spokesman, Mo Elleithee, said candidates would frequently retell stories relayed to them, vetting them when possible. “In this case, we did try but were not able to fully vet it,” Mr. Elleithee said. “If the hospital claims it did not happen that way, we respect that.”
The sheriff’s deputy, Bryan Holman, had played host to Mrs. Clinton in his home before the primary. Deputy Holman said in a telephone interview that a conversation about health care led him to relate the story of Ms. Bachtel. He never mentioned the name of the hospital that supposedly turned her away because he did not know it, he said.
Deputy Holman knew Ms. Bachtel’s story only secondhand, having learned it from close relatives of the woman. Ms. Bachtel’s relatives did not return phone calls Friday.
As Deputy Holman understood it, Ms. Bachtel had died of complications from a stillbirth after being turned away by a local hospital for her failure to pay $100 upfront.
“I mentioned this story to , and she apparently took to it and liked it,” Deputy Holman said, “and one of her aides said she’d be using it at some rallies.”
Indeed, saying that the story haunted her, Mrs. Clinton repeatedly offered it as a dire example of a broken health care system. At one March rally in , for instance, she referred to Ms. Bachtel, a 35-year-old who managed a Pizza Hut, as a young, uninsured minimum-wage worker, saying, “It hurts me that in our country, as rich and good of a country as we are, this young woman and her baby died because she couldn’t come up with $100 to see the doctor.”
Mrs. Clinton does not name Ms. Bachtel or the hospital in her speeches. As she tells it, the woman was turned away twice by a local hospital when she was experiencing difficulty with her pregnancy. “The hospital said, ‘Well, you don’t have insurance.’ She said, ‘No, I don’t.’ They said, ‘Well, we can’t see you until you give $100.’ She said, ‘Where am I going to get $100?’
“The next time she came back to the hospital, she came in an ambulance,” Mrs. Clinton continued. “She was in distress. The doctors and the nurses worked on her and couldn’t save the baby.”
Since Ms. Bachtel’s baby died at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital, the story implicitly and inaccurately accuses that hospital of turning her away, said Ms. Weiss, the spokeswoman for O’Bleness Memorial said. Instead, the O’Bleness health care system treated her, both at the hospital and at the affiliated River Rose Obstetrics and Gynecology practice, Ms. Weiss said.
The hospital would not provide details about the woman’s case, citing privacy concerns; she died two weeks after the stillbirth at a medical center in Columbus.
“We reviewed the medical and patient account records of this patient,” said Mr. Castrop, the health system’s chief executive. Any implication that the system was “involved in denying care is definitely not true.”
Although Mrs. Clinton has told the story repeatedly, it first came to the attention of the hospital after cited it as a staple of her stump speeches on Thursday. That brought it to the attention of in , which published an article on Friday.
Neither paper named the hospital or challenged Mrs. Clinton’s account.
STUDENTS debated the issues at a table for at Ohio State University’s Newark campus last March.
David Ahntholz/NEW YORK TIMES