SouthPointe Hospital stays open for now

February 21, 2001
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
By Judith VandeWater

SouthPointe Hospital in St. Louis will remain open -- for now -- while state investigators assess the hospital's plan to correct conditions they say put psychiatric patients in danger.

Earlier this month, state and federal regulators put the hospital on notice that it is at risk of being shut down unless managers fix problems quickly.

The Missouri Department of Health threatened to revoke or suspend the operating license of the 408-bed hospital. The hospital, at 2639 Miami Street, has 104 licensed psychiatric beds.

Lois Kollmeyer, director of the state's hospital-licensing division, said Tuesday that SouthPointe had made progress. The likelihood that the state will yank the hospital's operating license and prevent it from treating patients is diminishing, she said.

"I am not at the point of saying the licensing issues are off the table," Kollmeyer said.

SouthPointe was cited in the government audit for having too few staff members to respond to potentially threatening situations and for inadequately training the staff it had.

The report said the deficiencies threatened the safety, health and privacy of psychiatric patients.

SouthPointe is one of the largest private providers of inpatient psychiatric services in the St. Louis area. And that has mental-health advocates watching the situation closely.

James House, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Greater St. Louis, said SouthPointe's beds are needed in the community.

"If they shut that hospital, there will be nowhere for those patients to go," he said. The association is a nonprofit advocacy group.

In recent years, the number of psychiatric beds has declined in the area as the state and privately owned hospitals reduced psychiatric inpatient services. To some extent, advances in pharmaceuticals allowed patients with extreme psychiatric disorders to lead their lives with less frequent hospitalizations. But House said there have never been enough resources for the mentally ill, and the resource crisis has not abated.

Tenet Healthcare, which owns SouthPointe and three other area hospitals, declined to discuss the detailed plan of corrective action it sent to the state health department and the federal Health Care Financing Administration. The federal agency oversees the Medicare program.

That plan will become a public document once the state approves it, an action Kollmeyer said could come later this week.

"They have been beginning to correct some of the problems even as we were there," Kollmeyer said.

State inspectors did not reinspect the hospital Tuesday as a state health official had indicated they would last week. Kollmeyer said the inspectors would make an unannounced visit, probably within a few days.

Inspectors investigating a complaint surveyed the hospital for three days in January and found conditions that warranted a full investigation. A team of state and Medicare investigators returned Feb. 3 through Feb. 9, combing the entire facility for regulatory deficiencies.

Their criticisms of general medicine and other departments will be delivered to the hospital Monday. Kollmeyer said none of the infractions found elsewhere in the hospital rise to the gravity of those in psychiatric services. The hospital will then have 10 days to respond to the new set of complaints.