03/19/09 — O'Berry stands to lose approximately $4.7 million a month if deficiences are not corrected

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O'Berry stands to lose approximately $4.7 million a month if deficiences are not corrected

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 19, 2009 1:46 PM

After announcing Tuesday that federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid surveyors have completed their work at O'Berry Neuro-Medical Center, state officials said Wednesday that the center could stand to lose approximately $4.7 million a month if it does not correct its deficiences within 30 days.

"But that's not going to happen," state Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Brad Deen said. "We're going to do everything we can to make sure that does not happen."

When it submits its final report in about a week, state officials explained, CMS is expected to issue "a finding of a condition level deficiency" -- a step below immediate jeopardy, but a finding that could still result in the loss of federal funding if corrective action is not taken by the time surveyors return in 30 days.

And included in that corrective action plan, a state release said, are requirements for "closer supervision and increased monitoring of the residents in one of the 25 homes."

State officials, though, still have had little to say about the incident that led to CMS' involvement at the center -- the March 11 death of a female patient that has been described as "unusual" and "unexpected."

Citing patient confidentiality laws, they have only said that they do not believe patient abuse was a factor and that four employees -- two supervisors and two health care technicians -- have been placed on paid investigatory leave.

However, those laws might be poised to change, following an announcement Wednesday by Gov. Beverly Perdue stating her desire to make state facilities more open and accountable.

Under the proposal, the following information about deaths in state facilities would be made part of the public record:

* the name, sex, age and date of birth of the deceased

* the name of the facility providing the report

* the date, time and location of the death

* a brief description of the circumstances of death, including the manner of death if known

* a list of all entities to whom the event was reported.

It's a proposal that state officials said has the support of both Attorney General Roy Cooper and DHHS Secretary Lanier Cansler.

"This is something they all want," Deen said.

However, he continued, "it would literally take an act of legislation" to make the changes -- something they hope will occur this session.

The decision to try to make such information part of the public record has been motivated, in part, by recent problems at the state's mental health facilties, including O'Berry, Cherry Hospital, Central Regional Hospital in Butner and Caswell Center in Kinston.

"It is important that we have the ability to be open and transparent in dealing with issues within our facilities," Cansler said. "While we want to make sure we protect the rights of the individuals we serve, we also want to make sure the public has access to information about problems in the facilities and our efforts to correct them."

It's a move that local legislators have indicated they are likely to support.

"I thought (all that) was public record," Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, said. "That sounds like it ought to be public information."

"Of course I think we've got to have more transparency," Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston said. "I think folks have lost some trust and faith in the government and I believe we need to have more transparency and open dialogue as possible, in particular when it comes to our mental health facilities."

And while Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, who is a member of the House Mental Health Reform Committee, said he wasn't sure if patient names and ages were necessary, he did advocate making public more information about investigations and circumstances surrounding deaths.

"I think the taxpayers need to know the state is doing a good job, and that the facilities we are paying for are doing what they need to do," he said.