Feds Give St. Joseph Another Lifeline

Feds Give St. Joseph Another Lifeline

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Tuesday again granted St. Joseph Medical Center a reprieve, giving parties until January 15 to work out a plan to avoid catastrophic funding cuts that threaten to shutter the downtown hospital. 

Hospital staff and supporters, including Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, gathered in St. Joseph's lobby Tuesday to cheer the decision, the Houston Chronicle reports. St. Joseph wouldn't comment beyond a prepared statement from CEO Mark Bernard: "We have pledged to continue our work together to ensure that high quality care is delivered to those who rely on our hospital." 

The troubled hospital has been under the intense scrutiny of federal regulators since the August 27 shooting of a confused psychiatric patient who had checked himself into St. Joseph earlier that night amid severe panic attacks. According to a federal inspection report, St. Joseph CEO Bernard, when questioned by CMS investigators, unequivocally blamed the patient, saying the off-duty Houston Police Department officer who shot him had entered "police mode" when the patient grew combative and threw a hospital tray table. Other hospital administrators told federal regulators the security guards were justified in tasing and shooting the patient because "the patient's aggression toward the officers was a criminal offense." 

Following the shooting, federal regulators threatened to defund the hospital, saying their investigation determined patients were in "immediate jeopardy." While CMS kept extending the deadline for St. Joseph to implement a plan of action that would address federal regulators' concerns, the hospital's efforts continued to fall short. 

Last week, after CMS announced its decision to cut Medicare and Medicaid funding to the hospital on December 3, regulators released another inspection report from mid-October. Among other things, the report detailed glaring problems in how the hospital treats suicidal patients (inspectors documented at least two instances in which suicidal women were admitted but suicide precautions weren't taken) and serious hygiene deficiencies (psychiatric patients being escorted over shit-stained floors and nurses using the same pair of gloves on more than one patient). 

Tuesday's announcement means that St. Joseph will continue to talk with the feds about how to improve patient care at the hospital. If the two sides can agree on how exactly to do that by the new January 15 deadline, that would buy the hospital much more time (perhaps even more than a year, the Chron reports) to fix all the problems flagged by federal investigators. 

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