HOUSTON - Community leaders and families are rallying behind a historic hospital in Houston's Third Ward.
Two years ago, seven people at Riverside General Hospital were accused of bilking taxpayers out of more than $150 million in an alleged Medicaid fraud. Protesters say funds are being withheld because of that and Riverside could be forced to close soon.
Riverside General Hospital is a Third Ward institution and the only all-black hospital remaining in the U.S. Community activists say Riverside General will be forced to close within six weeks, if federal money doesn't begin flowing soon.
"If the federal government does not release the funds to keep this hospital moving and working these doors will shut down," said community activist Quanell X.
The hospital's administrator, Jerry Hilliard, disputes that. He says the hospital isn't facing closure, but does badly need about $4 million in Medicare-Medicaid funds that have been held up since 2012.
February 2012 was when FBI agents raided the hospital and seized thousands of files. A top administrator was convicted after pleading guilty to masterminding a $158 million Medicaid fraud. Six other defendants are still awaiting trial.
Hospital administrators says the Justice Department has been holding up payments while those cases are pending.
Demonstrators Wednesday pointed out the hospital itself was not indicted, and the drug treatment and mental health services it provides are badly needed in Houston right now.
"This is an indictment. We said to the leadership in this town, the medical community, especially the mental health community, you need to step up, make the phone call," said Robert Gilmore Sr.
Even though the hospital isn't being compensated for Medicare/Medicaid patients, the chief administrator says they aren't turning those patients away. But he says there are plans to restrict the number they see if those federal funds don't come through soon.
Riverside General Hospital has been an institution in Houston's African-American community since 1927. It was the only hospital in the city for many years dedicated to treating African-Americans.
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