The end of West Texas Hospital in Abilene could be the beginning of another round pitting Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) against proponents of physician-owned hospitals.
Last week, the 14-bed, physician-owned hospital said it would discontinue services after March 30 upon learning that the CMS would terminate the facilitys Medicare agreement on March 31. West Texas had until March 17 to comply with deficiencies in some Medicare conditions of participation that the CMS said represented a threat to patient health and safety.
The notice from the CMS came after Grassley and Baucus and Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.)long opponents of physician-owned hospitalscalled for an inquiry following an incident at the hospital earlier this year. In January, a patient who had undergone spinal surgery at West Texas suffered respiratory arrest, was transferred to nearby Abilene Medical Center and later died there (March 5, p. 7). An investigation by the CMS found that from the time the hospital opened in May 2005 until February 2007, West Texas Hospital personnel called 911 some 15 times to transfer patients for emergency care.
A written statement from the Senate Finance Committee on March 21 foreshadowed Grassley and Baucus intentions: The end of Medicares relationship with the West Texas Hospital cant be the end of work in Congress on specialty hospitals, Grassley said. In fact, the West Texas Hospitals deficiencies underscore the problems with physician-owned hospitals.
But Randy Fenninger, lobbyist for Physician Hospitals of Americaa trade group that represents physician-owned facilitiessaid the issue at West Texas relates to its failure to follow procedures, not to its ownership structure. Licensed as a general hospital, West Texas is not a member of the group.
I think the situation in West Texas has certainly become political fodder for people who oppose physician-owned hospitals, Fenninger said. Where we would certainly part ways with the senators comment (is) the idea that physician ownership was the cause of the patients deathbecause you can look at many physician-owned hospitals that are well-run and people follow the procedures that theyre given.