09/02/08 — Cherry's funding in jeopardy

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Cherry's funding in jeopardy

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 2, 2008 1:37 PM

Investigators at Cherry Hospital have said "no" to continued federal funding, officials said Monday.

Cherry Hospital

Cherry Hospital

No formal announcement has been made by the state Department of Health and Human Services, which would only say that a survey team on site last week recommended that the hospital be "decertified" for federal Medicaid funds.

The matter will now be decided by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, based in Atlanta.

"We don't know what we can say about that until we hear from CMS," said Tom Lawrence, public affairs director for DHHS. "The work at Cherry in terms of remediation continues as it has for the past 23 days, and they're already implementing a number of these things, so we just need to wait."

The state survey team arrived at Cherry on Aug. 26 and was expected to complete its study by week's end. Lawrence notified the News-Argus Monday of the initial recommendation, only to later say his office would decline comment pending findings of the CMS.

In the meantime, it was announced that a hospital management company will be hired to perform its own independent top-to-bottom review of Cherry operations and management.

The most recent investigation was prompted by the lack of care surrounding the April 29 death of a 50-year-old patient, allegedly left unsupervised in a chair in a dayroom for 22 hours.

Several steps have been taken since the incident -- the adult admissions ward on which Steven Sabock died has been closed and 16 staff members on duty at the time of the incident were removed from direct patient care and reassigned to other duties for at least 60 days.

In the midst of the controversy, on Aug. 22 two other staff members were arrested and charged with assaulting a male patient. Days later, the two health technicians were fired from the hospital, along with a full-time nurse. A part-time nurse also was released from duties.

This is not the first time Cherry has faced the prospect of losing its federal funds. In September 2007, concerns involving patient safety, nursing services and its governing body also put the hospital under "immediate jeopardy" status for federal funding of its Medicaid patients. Those problems, however, were corrected within the necessary timeframe after state survey teams investigated complaints about the delivery of services at Cherry, spending four days on site and delivering a 52-page report of their findings.

The impact of the loss of federal funding on the hospital is uncertain, and comes at a time when mental health reform has come under fire across the state.

Dr. Jack St. Clair, Cherry Hospital director, had previously stated that it receives an estimated $700,000 a month in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement for patients -- a hefty loss if CMS agrees with the recommendation to stop funding.