09/28/07 — Cherry's problems don't rival Broughton's

View Archive

Cherry's problems don't rival Broughton's

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 28, 2007 2:17 PM

State officials say Cherry Hospital is in better shape than its counterpart in Morganton, Broughton Hospital, which came under fire again this week and was ordered to take stringent reorganization measures.

Cherry was placed under "immediate jeopardy" status earlier this month on the heels of a survey team's visit to investigate complaints about the hospital. It was given until Sept. 30 to resolve issues or face withdrawal of federal funding.

Dr. Jack St. Clair, hospital director of Cherry, said the complaints boiled down to three areas of concern -- patient safety, nursing services and the governing body.

Broughton Hospital has been under the gun for weeks, following investigation into the Feb. 1 death of a patient who died of asphyxia after a staff member sat on his torso, according to an autopsy report. On Aug. 31, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced stoppage of reimbursement payments to treat new patients to the hospital.

On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services said the organizational structure at Broughton would be revamped to ensure accountability functions for clinical services.

Jim Osberg, chief of state-operated services with the Department of Health and Human Services, said such drastic measures will not be necessary at Cherry.

"(Facilities like Cherry) have the staff and should have the expertise in addressing those issues," he said Thursday. "They do get surveyed frequently, on a routine basis to address the issues."

Part of the problem, Osberg said, is the chain of command.

Cherry Hospital, for example, has a more standard approach, he explained, with an order in place for all departments.

"The lines of authority and communication are more typical and more effective in how problems are identified," Osberg said. In the case of Broughton, by contrast, "problems get stuck at a lower level and the leadership level is not as aware of them.

"When you have got all the nursing reporting up to the top level, there's a line of communication ... that can go all the way up."

The consequences at Broughton were much more severe than what will be seen at Cherry, he noted.

"We haven't seen the need to do that at Cherry. We think their organizational chart and how they're aligned is more aligned with what we would want to see," he said. "We think the system of organization is more amenable to correcting problems."

That doesn't mean there will not be glitches or that errors will always be caught, he added. Ongoing staff training and the like will always be implemented to make improvements, he said, "but we do think their system doesn't need correcting. ... We don't think there's a wholesale need for reorganizational change."

Getting hit with two investigations of state mental health hospitals in such a narrow span of time has been challenging, Osberg said. His staff has had to split their time and energies between both.

"It's a very tight frame trying to get things turned around while also working with Broughton," he said.

Representatives from his office have visited Cherry in recent weeks to review delivery of services, working with staff to demonstrate corrections have been made. St. Clair said Wednesday the "plan of correction" had been approved by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid and that Cherry was awaiting the return of the state survey team to determine the plan had been effectively implemented.

Osberg said his office was satisfied with the steps being taken.

"We think the plan of correction is sufficient and should address the issues," he said.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.