08/12/08 — Cherry faces more federal sanctions

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Cherry faces more federal sanctions

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on August 12, 2008 1:39 PM

For the second time in two years Cherry Hospital has been threatened with the loss of its federal funding because of incidents involving patient care.

Officials at the state Department of Health and Human Services said the state mental hospital received a letter Monday ordering it to submit a correction plan within the next three weeks or face losing its funds.

The order stems from two patient complaints reported in April and reviewed last week by federal inspectors.

In one, evidence was found that staff failed to properly monitor a patient for hydration and nutrition. In the other, evidence was found that staff improperly calmed down and restrained an agitated patient.

However, Cherry Director Dr. Jack St. Clair said both incidents have already been addressed, and that "appropriate corrective action" was taken with those involved. He would not elaborate, though, citing personnel concerns.

He explained that the problem with nutrition and hydration was the result of staff "failing to follow the physician's orders in sufficient detail."

That patient, he continued, did experience "some difficulties," was taken the hospital and subsequently died.

But, St. Clair emphasized that the autopsy report showed a pre-existing heart condition.

"There was no reference made to (the incident) at all. We did not see any indication that we had been the cause of death. He had a pre-existing condition," he said.

The other incident, St. Clair explained, occurred when a patient was "popping" other people with his shirt outside a nurses' station, and staff "failed to use proper de-escalation techniques."

That patient, he added, "was not significantly injured," and had only a "red mark on his back" as a result of the improper techniques.

But, St. Clair did say staff is undergoing more and different training in order to prevent future problems. He also said that the hospital is modifying its paperwork in order to make physician orders easier to follow.

He was adamant that the problems were not the result of an underqualified staff.

"It's a refresher training," he said. "We have a great group of staff, but we need to do better and we are."

He said the corrective plans would be in place and an internal mock survey would be held before the three weeks are up and the federal inspectors return.

"Our goal is to do it before the 23 days," he said. "We're wide open. We're doing everything we can to get out from under this."

It is the second time since September 2007 Cherry is having to take such actions.

Then, the hospital was cited for three areas of concern involving patient safety, nursing services and its governing body. However, officials were able to preserve its federal funding by correcting the problems within the three-week timeframe.

And then, as now, St. Clair said he believes the incidents will allow them to continue to improve their patient care.

"We've been trying to change the culture here for some time. The bar has been raised on our performance and that's a good thing," he said. "I'm confident we'll be able to resolve this issue and that we'll be better for all this."

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report