09/10/08 — State asks that Cherry keep funding

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State asks that Cherry keep funding

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on September 10, 2008 1:38 PM

Dempsey Benton, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, sent a letter last week to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid asking that no action be taken that "will result in the termination of Cherry Hospital from the Medicare program at this time."

In the letter, he wrote that while department officials "do not dispute the serious nature of the incidents that have occurred at Cherry Hospital ... we strongly believe the hospital is moving forward rapidly to implement corrective actions that will address CMS concerns regarding quality of care."

He also wrote that the NCDHHS believes "terminating the hospital's Medicare certification at this time is not warranted."

As of press time, however, no final decision had been made public by CMS, even though state surveyors, working under federal contract, have recommended that the hospital's immediate jeopardy status not be rescinded.

The problem, Benton explained in the letter, is that after the original plan of correction was submitted and accepted for the incident involving the neglect of a patient who later died, the hospital suffered another incident that resulted in the arrest of two employees on assault charges.

That incident then required a second plan, which was implemented over the Labor Day holiday. And, when the surveyors made their recommendation to not abate the immediate jeopardy, the implementation of that plan had not been fully completed.

Benton's letter, dated Sept. 3, asked that the two incidents be treated separately, and that the immediate jeopardy resulting from the patient neglect be lifted.

He also sought to assure Sandra Pace, the associate regional administrator of the CMS Division of Survey and Certification, that "compliance can be fully completed within the next several days," explaining that the state had taken actions at Cherry to increase oversight, increase nurse staffing, lower the number of patients being maintained and provide more support to staff.

However, there has been no word on whether that plan has indeed been fully implemented, although Tom Lawrence, director of public affairs for the state department, did say that the state is in the process of reviewing firms to serve as an independent management firm to, as Benton described it, "completely analyze all organizational and operational aspects of the hospital ... making recommendations regarding any structural and personnel changes necessary..."

Benton also acknowledged in the letter that while "some condition level deficiencies remain at Cherry Hospital, (the department) strongly believes that the immediate threat to patient safety has been reduced to the point where condition level issues can be addressed as part of our broader initiative to make systemic changes in the facility."

No further information, however, was available from Lawrence, and phone calls to Cherry Hospital were not returned and information requested from CMS about the immediate jeopardy status and the plans of correction was not received by press time.