Staff at Park Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, heaved a sigh of relief late last week when HCFA restored the hospital's Medicare eligibility after a six-day hiatus.
The agency yanked Park Medical Center from Medicare June 26 for poor care after inspections found numerous deficiencies. The surveys were prompted by an anonymous patient complaint.
Park Medical Center is owned by Brentwood, Tenn.-based Quorum Health Resources. Quorum bought the 125-bed hospital, formerly St. Anthony Medical Center, in 1992.
Located in one of Columbus' poorest neighborhoods, Park Medical Center is heavily reliant on Medicare and Medicaid patients, which accounted for 68% of its admissions in 1996, according to HCIA, a Baltimore-based healthcare information company.
Quorum spokeswoman Shea Davis said it's the first time one of the company's 17 owned hospitals had been terminated from Medicare. Quorum also manages about 240 hospitals nationally.
Park Medical Center was notified June 3 that it failed to meet standards in nursing services, surgical services, quality assurance, building conditions, and oversight by its board of directors.
Among the problems cited were inadequate nursing care, widespread environmental contamination, shoddy medical equipment and fire safety violations.
According to the surveyors' report, the hospital had failed to correct problems that were identified as long ago as 1996.
Hospital CEO James Rieder, who has worked at the facility for 10 months, said he could offer no explanation for the deficiencies.
"We're giving very top quality care here in a very safe and effective environment," he said.
Davis said no management changes have been made at the facility, although some employees were reassigned. Rieder declined to release the hospital's census last week, but he said the Medicare termination had no significant impact. Quorum had pledged to pay the bills of Medicare and Medicaid patients admitted after the decertification.
The hospital was resurveyed late last month and found to be in compliance just as HCFA's termination deadline kicked in.
The surveyors' report was delayed last week by heavy flooding in eastern Ohio that closed an Ohio Department of Health office, according to state officials. Workers there were unable to transmit the report electronically to the HCFA Region 5 office in Chicago; they eventually faxed it from another location.
HCFA officially rescinded its termination, and no interruption in Medicare or Medicaid payments occurred. Otherwise, the hospital would have had to reapply for Medicare status, a process that could two to four months, said HCFA Region 5 employee Doug-las Wolfe.
Wolfe said there were "no grounds left" to keep the hospital out of Medicare.
The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations sent a surveyor to the hospital unannounced last week. The findings will be considered by the commission's accreditation committee, probably on Sept. 9, according to a Joint Commission spokeswoman.
The JCAHO last surveyed Park Medical Center in December and granted it accreditation with recommendations for improvement -- a designation given to about 80% of accredited hospitals. It means surveyors found serious problems that the hospital is expected to correct.
Park Medical Center reported net income of $2.8 million on revenues of $60.4 million in 1996.
This was the second time this year that an Ohio hospital had its Medicare status under attack. HCFA threatened to remove Painesville-based Lake Hospital System after an inspection found problems in the emergency room of its LakeWest Hospital in Willoughby, Ohio. The inspection followed the choking death of a patient who had been restrained. In May, HCFA concluded that the system was in compliance.
Ohio Hospital Association spokeswoman Mary Yost said the fact HCFA's action against Park Medical Center stemmed from an anonymous complaint rather than a sentinel event "is more likely to send some chills through the hospital community. Everybody, no matter how good a job they do, is going to run the risk of having patients or maybe even disgruntled former employees make a complaint."