Health & Science

Fighting Closure, St. Joseph Medical Center Will Submit ‘Improvement Plan’ To Feds

Houston’s only downtown hospital will ask the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid to continue reimbursements beyond a Dec. 3 threatened cut-off. The hospital is finalizing a “system improvement plan” after a series of failed federal inspections and the Aug. 27 shooting of an unarmed, combative patient.

rally at St Joseph Medical Center
Doctors, nurses and politicians rallied at St. Joseph Medical Center in downtown Houston, asking federal health officials to continue Medicare and Medicaid payments beyond a threatened cut-off on Dec. 3. From left to right: Houston councilman Jerry Davis, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston), Dr. Winston Watkins, Jr., and Dr. E. Leon Etter II.

Elected officials and staff members held a rally late Friday in the lobby of St. Joseph Medical Center in downtown Houston. The troubled hospital, the city's oldest, has been terminated from Medicare and Medicaid, the federal government health payment programs for seniors and the poor.

The federal reimbursements comprise over half of the hospital's revenue, and officials notified the hospital that the payments will begin winding down on Dec. 3. Without Medicare and Medicaid, the hospital will almost certainly have to close.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, led the rally, saying the loss of payments would be a "death knell" that the hospital does not deserve. She has written to President Barack Obama and is advocating on behalf of the hospital with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Burwell.

St. Joseph's recent problems began earlier this summer and then burst into public view on Aug. 27, when patient Alan Pean was shot in the chest by two hospital security guards. Pean survived, but the shooting prompted a federal inspection. Federal officials criticized the hospital for poor training in the handling of aggressive or disoriented patients. (Pean was unarmed, but the officers could not subdue him with a stun device).

Inspectors also found other deficiencies during the inspections, such as nurses using contaminated gloves, and gave the hospital a series of extensions to fix them. On Nov. 13, federal officials informed St. Joseph's that it would be terminated from Medicare and Medicaid.

Rep. Lee said federal officials needed to hear "the missing information" and “other stories” about the valuable contributions of St. Joseph Medical Center to the city. The hospital is the only one downtown, and is a Level III trauma center. St. Joseph would be a critical part of the community response to a terror attack, accident, or other disaster in a major downtown building or sports arena, Lee said.

The hospital is also a key provider of health care to homeless people who live downtown, and provides much-needed inpatient mental health care, said state Representative Garnet Coleman, a Democrat. The hospital has about 100 inpatient psychiatric beds, about a third of the city's total, Lee said.

Political leaders also spoke about the hospital's history, such as being the first in Houston with an integrated staff of white and black physicians working together.

Leaders of St. Joseph's did not speak at the Friday rally. Lee said administrators were busy gathering documents and writing a "System Improvement Plan", or SIP. A SIP is an agreement between a troubled hospital and the federal agency known as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS. A SIP outlines concrete steps a hospital will take to come back into compliance with federal standards.

St. Joseph administrators traveled Thursday to Dallas to meet with regional representatives from CMS, Lee said. The final SIP will be submitted before or right after Thanksgiving, she added.

CMS officials have the final say in deciding whether to approve the SIP and allow St. Joseph to continue receiving federal funds.


Below are the on-site inspections by the Department of Health and Human Services revealed deficiencies in hygiene, mental health care, and dialysis treatment at St. Joseph's Medical Center in downtown Houston.




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