Federal regulators: Psychiatric hospital harming patients

AP News
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Posted: Nov 13, 2015 4:46 PM

SEATTLE (AP) — Federal regulators plan to cut millions in Medicare and Medicaid funding for Washington state's largest psychiatric hospital after a recent inspection found "multi-system wide failures" have caused serious harm to patients and placed the health and safety of all patients at risk.

In addition, federal officials said Western State Hospital's governing body "failed to provide oversight and supervision necessary to ensure patients are protected from abuse and neglect and received safe and appropriate psychiatric, medical and nursing services," according to a letter sent this week to hospital CEO Ron Alder and acquired by The Associated Press on Friday.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it will end its provider agreement with the 842-bed facility on Nov. 28, the letter said. The Lakewood, Washington facility receives $4.7 million from Medicaid and $11.2 million from Medicare annually, according to state officials.

State officials said they plan to fix the problems before the two-week deadline.

"We have been under the threat of losing federal funding since the inspection in September," Kathy Spears, spokeswoman for the state Department of Social and Health Services, said in an email Friday. The agency is working with the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to correct the problems, she said.

"Patient and staff safety remain priorities and to that end we are working to recruit more staff, which is key to improving safety and providing quality services to the patients at all of our state psychiatric hospitals," she said. "We have not lost federal funding."

Stephanie Magill, a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services spokeswoman in Seattle, said Friday that although terminations sometimes happen, "more often than not, facilities come back into compliance."

The letter marks the fourth time in 2015 that the hospital has been under threat of losing federal funds. The federal agency sent 90-day termination notices to the hospital in January, March and September after finding that patients were at risk. This is the first letter that threatens funding cuts within weeks of the announcement.

The decision followed an inspection that ended on Nov. 5 in which investigators identified several "immediate jeopardy" findings. "Immediate jeopardy" is defined by law as a situation in which the hospital's failure to comply with program requirements "has caused, or is likely to cause, serious injury, harm, impairment, or death to a resident."

The infractions related to patient rights, quality assessment, medical staff, nursing services and infection control, the letter said.

Western State Hospital has struggled with staffing as it sought to comply with a federal court order issued in April that requires the state to provide timely competency services. The hospital was in the process of opening new wards to handle the competency cases, but when federal inspectors found the hospital out of compliance, health services secretary Kevin Quigley announced that they ended the hospital expansion until they get things under control.

Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said they are aware of the possible effect on the budget and ensuring patient and staff safety is the most important thing.

"At the same time we are also focused on complying with recent court orders," she said. "Accomplishing these two aims at the same time is a complex issue. We are working with DSHS to determine viable next steps."

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