A patients death following spinal surgery at West Texas Hospital, Abilene, has led to an inquiry by leading policymakers on Capitol Hill who oppose physician-owned specialty hospitals. On Jan. 23, a patient who had undergone spinal surgery at 14-bed West Texas Hospital suffered respiratory arrest and was transferred to 187-bed Abilene (Texas) Regional Medical Center. The patient was transferred to Abilene for a higher level of care and died there, said Ron Rives, chief executive officer at West Texas.
The incident caught the attention of U.S. Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), as well as Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), who today sent a letter to the CMS asking officials to answer several questions, including why West Texas had been granted a Medicare provider number during a moratorium on specialty hospitals, and if West Texas notifies patients that they might have to be transferred in the event of an emergency. The letter also said the hospital has been reimbursed nearly $4.2 million since it was granted its Medicare provider number in May 2005. West Texas received its license as a general hospital in March 2005, said Emily Palmer, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.
CMS clearly must take action and ensure that physician-owned facilities that hold themselves out to the public as hospitals have the requisite staff and abilities to ensure that basic lifesaving measures can be employed, the letter said. The CMS is reviewing the letter from the members and will have a response to them shortly, said Jeff Nelligan, a CMS spokesman.
In a written statement about the incident, West Texas Hospital said, "We would respectfully disagree with the inaccurate characterization that has referred to us as a specialty hospital, which it is not. We are licensed as an acute-care hospital, not a specialty hospital, with physicians on our professional medical staff who provide a broad-range of services to the community." -- by Jessica Zigmond