Federal Handling of Los Angeles County Hospital Draws Fire
Patient safety experts are questioning the conduct of CMS after federal regulators repeatedly have failed to revoke federal funding from Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital following a series of violations, the Los Angeles Times reports (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 6/12).
In the most recent case, CMS officials last week notified King-Harbor that it could lose eligibility to participate in Medicare if it does not meet minimum federal standards within 23 days.
King-Harbor is operating under a special agreement with CMS after the agency dropped the hospital's certification to participate in Medicare. Under the agreement reached in March, Los Angeles County is not billing Medicare for procedures at the hospital until August, by which time the hospital is expected to have addressed the problems (California Healthline, 6/8).
The hospital in 2005 lost its accreditation from the Joint Commission, formerly known as the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, and since 2004 has failed more than a dozen federal inspections.
CMS revokes Medicare certification infrequently -- fewer than five times per year -- but the Times notes that other hospitals have lost funding after fewer violations than King-Harbor has been cited for.
Dennis O'Leary, president of the Joint Commission, speculated that CMS likely would have revoked funding for other hospitals if similar problems were found. He added, "If you keep drawing a line in the sand and you keep erasing the line in the sand, at some point the hospital and the community and the politicians are going to think you don't mean it."
However, acting CMS Administrator Leslie Norwalk said that the agency has granted exceptions in cases where there is a strong community need and a demonstrated commitment to improve, arguing that improvements have been made at King-Harbor in response to federal pressure. "Every single time that there has been a deadline ... we have moved (the pressure) up a notch" (Los Angeles Times, 6/12).