07/23/09 — Cherry to get federal money again

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Cherry to get federal money again

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 23, 2009 1:46 PM

After almost a year of lost federal funding, inspectors with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services informed Cherry Hospital officials Wednesday that they plan to recommend the state psychiatric facility be once again certified to receive Medicare and Medicaid payments.

Cherry Hospital Director Philip Cook said that federal inspectors wrapped up their survey Wednesday after spending the past few days doing a complete evaluation of the hospital and its practices.

"When you lose your certification, you start all over again," said Mark Van Sciver, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services. "They inspect you like you are a brand new hospital opening the doors for the first time. They inspect everything."

Cook explained that the investigators' unannounced visit came after several months of operation under an approved plan of correction.

That meant analyzing and then changing policies and procedures, as well as training staff to "perform in different ways than before."

"That was really important. That was the biggest part," Cook said. "Once you change what you're doing, the real challenge is to continue doing it, and that's what's happened."

And now, he added, that will continue to be the challenge.

"While we are excited and proud to have gained this level of performance and certification, this is not the end of the story for us. We know there is still work to do.

"Our mission at this point is to continue to work on our performance here so that our expectations of ourselves will exceed those of CMS or anyone else. We really believe it's just going to continue to improve and get better."

But he also added a slight note of caution, acknowledging that the certification is not yet official.

"We still need to hear from Atlanta the official confirmation, so it's not a done deal, but it's pretty close."

But for now they are pleased with the news.

"It's terrific news -- in many ways," Cook said. "One of the biggest things is for our employees who are proud of our work here and who have met the challenges and the issues that need to be changed on every level.

"We also think it's important for the region. And from a financial perspective, being able to bill and collect for these services is critical."

Van Sciver explained that once the hospital receives official word from CMS, its federal funding will start, dating back to Wednesday. Typically, he added, the hospital receives about $1 million a month in Medicare and Medicaid funds.

Cherry hospital lost its federal funding in September 2008 following a CMS investigation into the April 29 death of 50-year-old Steve Sabock, who was left sitting in a chair unattended in a dayroom for approximately 22 hours.

Since then two workers have been convicted of beating a different patient in an August 2008 incident, and in January others were disciplined in case of potential patient neglect.

Those incidents led to several employees losing their jobs, including the former director Dr. Jack St. Clair who resigned months after an independent firm was brought in to consult and temporarily lead the facility.

Cook was hired as the new director in April.

Cherry, which has a bed capacity of 274, serves 38 eastern North Carolina counties.