09/17/12 — Cherry Hospital to contest $15,000 in penalties

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Cherry Hospital to contest $15,000 in penalties

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on September 17, 2012 1:46 PM

Officials at Cherry Hospital and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services have decided to officially contest the more than $15,000 in civil penalties facing the state psychiatric facility after failing to come to agreement during an informal conference with the state Department of Labor on Aug. 29.

The fines are the result of an occupation safety and health inspection that began in February and lasted for several months, finding three alleged serious violations and three alleged nonserious violations.

The alleged serious violations -- two of which resulted in a $6,300 fine -- involved issues such as employees who suffered injuries from patient attacks, a lack of personal protective equipment and a lack of assessments to examine the hazards created by violent patients and whether the appropriate protective equipment was available.

The three nonserious violations -- each resulting in a $900 fine -- involved OSHA forms that were improperly filled out.

Cherry Hospital officials have contested the accuracy findings, even as they have acknowledged that injuries do happen.

"We can never, in any hospital in this state or in Cherry Hospital, provide an atmosphere completely free of hazards. You're never going to be able to do that when dealing with patients with behavioral issues," hospital CEO Luckey Welsh said in an interview in early August after the citations were issued.

Welsh also said that many of the recommendations of how the violations should be abated are already being done in the hospital.

However, state Department of Labor officials notified the hospital that they would not change the citations or the penalties. And so, according to an email from Julie Henry, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, state and hospital officials have filed notice that they are contesting the findings to the Occupational Safety and Health Commission of North Carolina -- an independent panel appointed by the governor.

It is a process that, state Department of Labor spokeswoman Dolores Quesenberry said, can take months, if not years to come to a resolution.