State OKs hospital's plan for correcting problems

February 24, 2001
By Judith Vandewater
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Missouri Health Department officials have approved SouthPointe Hospital's plans for correcting conditions that government inspectors said endangered psychiatric patients. The approval averts a shutdown of the south St. Louis hospital.

The state will not revoke the hospital's license at this time, said Carey Smith, head of the state's hospital regulatory staff.

Tenet Healthcare-St. Louis operates the hospital, at 2639 Miami Street. It was called Lutheran Medical Center until renamed by Tenet in 1999.

SouthPointe Chief Executive Doug Doris said he was pleased that the state accepted the hospital's plan for correcting problems found by state and federal inspectors earlier this month.

"We have given this our highest level of attention because patient care and safety are our top concerns at SouthPointe," Doris said.

In the inspections, state and federal officials reported that the hospital was not adequately supervising patients who were dangerous to themselves or others. Inspectors said hospital staff had used physical and chemical restraints for more than one hour without the required review by a physician.

Smith said SouthPointe has good patient care policies but had failed to follow them. He said his agency had found no reason to recommend a professional license review for any physician or nurse supervising psychiatric care at the hospital.

State health regulators now will recommend that the federal Medicare program continue SouthPointe's certification as a care provider. The hospital's Medicare certification was at risk because of the violations reported earlier this month.

After a weeklong state and federal inspection, state regulators notified the hospital that they would shut the hospital down unless managers fixed the problems quickly. Among other things, the government audit cited SouthPointe for having too few staff members and for inadequately training its staff.

In the plan approved by state regulators Friday, the hospital said it will close a small overflow unit, one of seven psychiatric units. It has asked physicians who admit large numbers of patients to use other hospitals so SouthPointe can reduce its patient load and its reliance on temporary staff.

SouthPointe, with 104 licensed psychiatric beds, temporarily closed another of its seven psychiatric units Feb. 13 because inspectors found safety violations. It will remain closed until repairs are completed.

The hospital said it has begun a series of training sessions for housekeepers, aides, nurses and physicians.

Hospital policy requires that each patient be checked every 15 minutes. Investigators said that in practice, many of the checks were done by aides in a slipshod manner. In one case, inspectors said, a patient died in her room, and an aide doing safety checks did not discover the body until it was stiff.

SouthPointe said it will require a registered nurse to make safety checks on all patients every two hours around the clock. Other personnel will make checks every 15 minutes.