Vt. hospital fears for funding after patient death

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Funding for most of a Bennington hospital’s budget could be in jeopardy after an investigation found two nurses failed to provide proper care for a patient who died in the emergency room, hospital officials said.

The hospital, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, is moving quickly to correct the problems identified following the patient’s death in hopes the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services won’t cut off the funding, which accounts for about 75 percent of its budget, they said.

“It’s important for our hospital to be able to treat any patient who comes through the door and working with any provider in the area,” hospital spokesman Kevin Robinson said Tuesday. “We will leave no stone unturned to be able to continue to participate in this program.”

On Monday, the hospital announced that a state investigation determined hospital policies weren’t followed after a patient arrived complaining of back pain. Following an initial assessment by nurses, the patient was found dead by a non-clinical staff member. The staffer notified the two nurses who initially cared for the patient; neither responded.

Another nurse later alerted a doctor.

The cause of the patient’s death is unknown.

The hospital reported the incident to the state Oct. 2. The hospital didn’t release the date of the incident or the name of the patient.

Robinson said the two nurses were no longer providing patient care but he didn’t know if they were still employed by the medical center.

The hospital said the state, which acts on behalf of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, indicated that hospital policies including those related to privacy, obtaining consent for treatment and immediately reporting adverse events weren’t followed.

“I am upset and disappointed that we did not live up to our own high standards for the care that we provide and that our community expects,” hospital president Thomas Dee said in a statement.

Frances Keeler, assistant director of the Vermont Division of Licensing and Protection, which does regulatory work for CMS in the state, said CMS on Tuesday sent the hospital a letter outlining the violations inspectors found. She said the hospital is being asked to submit a plan to correct the deficiencies and once the plan is submitted the letter will become public.

“I know that they communicated to us over the last couple of days the steps that they were putting into place to correct the problem,” Keeler said. “And that was a good thing from our point of view.”

Southwestern Vermont Medical Center hadn’t been notified by CMS what actions it was going to take against the hospital, Robinson said.

“We think that it is likely that those programs may be in jeopardy,” he said. “That’s why we are focusing on addressing those (deficiencies) as quickly and as thoroughly as we can.”

Robinson refused to speculate about what would happen if the hospital lost the majority of the funding for its $142 million budget.

Steps have been taken to correct the deficiencies identified by the investigation, but Robinson wouldn’t say what those steps were.

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