09/27/07 — Cherry director: Hospital will meet state deadline

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Cherry director: Hospital will meet state deadline

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 27, 2007 2:09 PM

Cherry Hospital has complied with recommendations toward lifting "immediate jeopardy" status imposed by the state earlier this month, its director says.

And hospital director Dr. Jack St. Clair said he is optimistic that a survey team will lift the sanction.

St. Clair talked Wednesday about the nearly three-week effort to introduce a plan that will satisfy officials.

Survey teams from the Division of Health Services Regulations and the Joint Commission visited the hospital Sept. 4-7 to investigate complaints that had been lodged against Cherry. Three areas of concern were listed -- patient safety, nursing services and its governing body -- and prompted the state's sanctions, giving Cherry until Sept. 30 to comply with recommendations.

The ruling placed Cherry in jeopardy of losing federal funding for patients. On Sept. 21, a public notice was published from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Ser-vices in Atlanta, announcing the voluntarily termination of a Medicare/Medicaid provider agreement between Cherry Hospital and the Secretary of Health and Human Services if conditions were not met by Sept. 30.

St. Clair said he is guardedly hopeful the sanction will be lifted.

"I feel confident that we're going to come out from under the immediate jeopardy because our staff has worked very hard since Sept. 7 when (CMS) left with their findings," he said. "We have modified some policies and procedures. We have done a lot of training for staff in a lot of areas to address those three issues."

Cherry staff has worked steadily to produce an acceptable plan, culminating with conversations by phone this past weekend with officials in Atlanta and a document being sent to them by overnight mail on Saturday, St. Clair said.

"They called Monday with some questions to clarify some things. That conversation continued into (Tuesday). At this point, the Atlanta office approved our plan of correction," he said.

A return visit by the state survey team is expected any day now, the scope of which is unknown, St. Clair said.

"The survey may be focused on those three issues, or it may be a full survey," he said.

St. Clair said he stands behind his staff and efforts being made, choosing to view the situation as a chance to improve on services at Cherry Hospital.

"We're not taking this matter lightly. Patient safety and the care and treatment of patients is our No. 1 priority," he said. "(This has) given us an opportunity to put additional measures in place and to enhance the quality of care to our patient population.

"If we're truly all about not just good but exemplary care to our patients, we should always be receptive to scrutiny. We can always do better, and that's the way to look at this thing, because it's all about patients. That's what we're here for."

As one of the largest employers in Wayne County, with an estimated 1,100 staff members, the 284-bed facility has a rich history and St. Clair said it is one he works hard to protect.

"Regardless of how this thing plays out, I think it's an opportunity for us to raise the bar, to affect better care. That's the intent of every organization that's affiliated with Cherry Hospital," he said.

Instead of viewing recent findings as a black mark on the hospital, he said he plans to move forward with a positive approach to change. At the same time, he said he is keenly aware of the difficulties that come with caring for the mentally ill.

"This population is a very challenging group of folks to work with," he said. "(The staff) has dealt with people with all kinds of addiction disorders ... many of these people are aggressive as in violent, which poses a challenge every day to the staff. We get patients and staff hurt at times. I think it's important for folks to know because some folks don't know that.

"We're trying to be forthright with the public about our situation and to recognize that we're not perfect but also to say that we view this as an opportunity to improve over the status quo."