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State: Patients at S. Side hospital face serious risk

Monday, July 25, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

"Significant" health code violations at Provident Hospital have put patients "at risk for serious harm or death" in the last year, according to state officials and inspection reports.

Illinois Department of Public Health inspections show the South Side hospital -- ultimately overseen by Cook County Board President John Stroger -- has failed multiple times to meet the minimum standards in patient care and safety.

The reports, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, reveal that the state has twice declared the hospital as being in "immediate jeopardy" -- the most serious violation a hospital can receive -- and has led to threats of a takeover.

The state originally set a Tuesday deadline for hospital leaders to present a plan to correct the most recent violations, or Provident would lose its Medicaid funding. Last week, that deadline was moved to September.

The inspections, conducted since January, revealed:

*There were patients left unattended who died, including a 2-day-old baby.

*An employee who supervisors knew tested positive for tuberculosis continued working around patients for four months.

*Biohazardous waste containers were left in the open, unsealed.

*Doctors, nurses and a housekeeper entered a surgery area, then came out and commingled with others before going back in.

*Nursing aides tended to an "isolated" patient, then tended to others without changing or washing.

*Narcotics such as morphine were left in unlocked, open cabinets.

*A security guard was accused of "stomping" a patient awaiting care.

Provident working on fixes

"The hospital has failed to implement the most fundamental protection, by failing to ensure patient safety," one report reads.

"The deficiencies cited are significant and limit . . . capacity to render adequate care and to ensure the health and safety of your patients," reads another.

Though many violations have been fixed, officials admit they're still working on others.

"We take every infraction seriously," said Dan Martin, deputy chief for the Cook County Bureau of Health Services. "Some are more serious than others, some are life-threatening, and those are the ones we're focusing attention on."

County records show the Stroger-appointed committee responsible for monitoring Provident hasn't met in years.

Its chairman, county Commissioner Jerry Butler, did not return calls.

Several committee members said they were unaware of the problems until notified last week by the Sun-Times.

'We've never been informed'

"This is obviously very serious," said Commissioner Peter Silvestri, the committee's vice chairman. "But we've never been informed of it -- and we should have been."

The county's hospital committee is set to meet Tuesday, on unrelated issues, but Silvestri said he'll ask then about Provident.

Silvestri said the problems point to "management deficiencies," while other commissioners put the blame squarely on Stroger.

A Stroger spokesman referred all questions to Martin.

The hospital at 500 E. 51st St. has been in operation since 1891, but it closed amid financial turmoil in 1989.

Cook County officials grudgingly purchased it, putting $25 million into rehabilitating it, and taxpayers have funded its operations since 1993.

This year, it has an operating budget of about $100 million.

Its chief operating officer, Stephanie Wright-Griggs, resigned in spring, and Michelle Thompson is now the acting leader.

"There definitely was a management change as a result of the things transpiring," Martin said.

State Health Department spokeswoman Tammy Leonard said that while the changes the hospital has made have helped, it remains out of compliance.

Violations found, she said, "put someone at risk for serious harm or death."

She said other hospitals sometimes receive violations, too, but most take corrective steps to prevent a state takeover.



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