HOSPITAL INSPECTIONS: Nurses Want Surprise Visits
California's system of pre-scheduled state hospital inspections is "a sham," unionized nurses said yesterday at an informal hearing with state health department regulators (Herdt, Ventura County Star, 4/28). Charging that routinely scheduled inspections give administrators time to cover up problems, the nurses urged officials to conduct surprise inspections and follow-up visits to ensure that violations are corrected. "Nurses think every day should be inspection day. Otherwise, it's like having an open book test," Lisa Hubbard, spokesperson for the Service Employees Union International, said. According to union lobbyist Beth Capell of the California Nurses Alliance SEIU, hospitals typically learn about inspections six months in advance, affording "plenty of time to prepare" and thus "preventing state inspectors from seeing how hospitals run on a daily basis." Capell said, "Hospitals spend months cleaning up the paperwork. They staff up, send home the whistleblowers and bring in the head-nodders" (Coleman, AP/Contra Costa Times, 4/27). Although regulators are developing a plan to implement a new law that requires the state to set minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios at hospitals, nurses contend that under the current system, chronic staffing shortages will continue to go undetected by inspectors (Ventura County Star, 4/28).
Prep Time Needed
But hospitals oppose unannounced inspections and proposed increases in fines, arguing that the inspections "are too complex for a surprise visit." Dorel Harms, vice president of professional services for the California Healthcare Association, said, "We'd like to have a little preparation for this. To give the inspectors a total picture, the right people, the leadership has to be there. They could be gone on vacation or not available to get the information that's needed." DHS inspector Shirley Towry agreed, noting that surprise inspections would take longer because hospitals would be unprepared. She added that "scheduling the visits does not harm study inspections because her agency looks beyond the surface to such things as hospital procedures, treatment outcomes and records." A bill introduced by Assemblywoman Helen Thomson (D-Davis) would mandate unannounced hospital inspections and raise fines from a daily $10 per patient affected by each violation to $50 (AP/Contra Costa Times, 4/27).