Complaint spurs Machias hospital probe

Posted March 23, 2009, at 8:01 p.m.

MACHIAS , Maine— State and federal licensing agencies are investigating a complaint involving patient care at Down East Community Hospital, the latest in a series of issues facing the Machias health care facility.

Roseanne Pawelec, a spokeswoman for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Boston, confirmed Monday that an investigation has been launched and completed, but she offered no details of the findings.

“As a result of a recent complaint registered about patient care at the hospital, CMS authorized the state to go in and conduct a full investigation,” Pawelec said in a phone interview. “We have sent the hospital a letter outlining deficiencies, which they will then respond to.”

The federal spokeswoman said only that the complaint was serious and that it involved patient care, including emergency room care. The hospital, which already is operating on a conditional state license, now has 30 days to submit a plan of correction, at which point both documents will be made public, Pawelec said.

CMS is a federal agency responsible for administering Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP and other health-related programs to ensure compliance with certain federal regulations. In most cases, state Department of Health and Human Services officials are sent to conduct investigations on behalf of CMS, but those officials investigate on behalf of the state agency as well.

Catherine Cobb, director of the Licensing and Regulatory Services division of the Maine DHHS, confirmed Monday that the state has indeed conducted its own investigation, but she declined to release any details at this time.

In an e-mail sent late Monday to the Bangor Daily News, hospital spokeswoman Robin Popp said DECH has been notified by CMS that it is out of compliance.

“Our internal quality and compliance teams are carefully reviewing the CMS report,” Popp wrote. “We take very seriously the review of all our regulators, and we intend to fully comply with all requirements made by CMS or the state on this matter. We have and will continue to cooperate fully with their offices.”

Like many hospitals, Down East Community Hospital has been subjected to numerous state and federal investigations over the years, but concerns have ramped up in Machias since an incident in January 2008.

Reid Emery, a former patient who checked out of the hospital one snowy night, was found dead in a snowbank near the hospital the next day from a combination of hypothermia and an accidental drug overdose. Emery’s death prompted an investigation by both the state and CMS, which found several deficiencies in regard to the Eastport man’s care.

DECH spent several weeks instituting changes in policies to come into compliance.In February, after a lengthy investigation into numerous complaints, DHHS ordered the hospital to operate on a conditional state license, an action it said was necessary to protect the interests of the general public.

At the time, Cobb said investigations found serious violations in the areas of pharmacy, clinical records, standards of care and quality, and patient safety. CMS also threatened to sever ties between DECH and the Medicare reimbursement process.

The hospital responded by working quickly to address those deficiencies, but it remains on a conditional license and will be monitored regularly for the next year.

When asked how many times a hospital can be found out of compliance before more serious intervention is required, Pawelec said CMS looks more closely at patterns or threads.

erussell@bangordailynews.net

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