2005-07-15 / Front Page

Blood Safety Issues Shut Down Hospital Unit

By Brian Magoolaghan


A vital treatment center within a local hospital was shut down last week after a joint federal/state investigation uncovered serious patient safety issues there, The Wave has learned.

St. John’s Episcopal Hospital’s Dialysis Center was shuttered Wednesday, July 6, after officials from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the state Department of Health concluded an investigation into conditions there.

Details of exactly what triggered the investigation and what was discovered remain sketchy.

Joe DiMura, a DOH spokesperson, would only say that “breakdowns” had been identified at the hospital’s Dialysis Center and directed all other questions to CMS, the lead agency in the investigation.

CMS’s New York Communications Director Jeff Hall said his agency’s Statement of Deficiency – the document that outlines the findings of the investigation – is still being prepared and would not comment on what it contains. That document will be available within 90 days, he said.

Hall said the hospital had not yet submitted a corrective action plan.

Penny Chin, a spokesperson for the hospital, would not say exactly what the investigation had uncovered there, but she indicated that the hospital was taking immediate action.

“For patient safety, a complete evaluation and upgrading of the water filtration system used for dialysis is presently being undertaken,” Chin said. “At the same time, the Dialysis Center is currently undergoing a renovation to better accommodate patient care. The remodeling includes high quality furnishings, equipment and an upgrading of the facility.”

A whistleblower at the hospital said investigators found unsanitary conditions including dried blood on light fixtures, under dialysis machines, and on the center’s furniture. The source also accused hospital officials of lying to dialysis patients – citing a bogus distilled water shortage when turning them away. The Wave could not substantiate those claims.

St. John’s patients are being diverted to other local medical treatment centers. Peninsula Hospital Center, for example, has been assisting in the treatment of more than 20 of St. John’s patients, according to Liz Sulik, External Affairs Director.

“We were very happy that we were able to work with St. John’s Episcopal Hospital and accommodate the needs of their dialysis patients,” Sulik said.

More than 100 patients were displaced by the closure, according to Chin.

It was unclear how quickly St. John’s would be able to come back into compliance, and one source said the possibility exists for the hospital to be terminated from the Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement program.

Our source within the hospital said the old furniture was already discarded and that maintenance crews are scheduled to begin working 12-hour shifts starting Monday.

DOH representatives have been on-site every day since the closure. “Until the deficiencies are corrected we are closely monitoring the situation and overseeing the transfer of patients to other healthcare providers for their care,” DiMura said.

Dialysis is a method of using a machine to clean the blood of kidney disease patients. There are two main classifications of dialysis treatment, both of which involve an exchange of the patients’ blood through a machine.

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