10:00 PM PDT on Thursday, May 6, 2010

By LORA HINES
The Press-Enterprise

Federal regulators have warned officials at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton that the hospital is in jeopardy of losing its Medicare reimbursements because of problems including patients’ rights, infection control and surgical services discovered during at least two recent inspections.

Officials with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in an April 30 letter told hospital administrators that they “are initiating a process that could result in termination of the hospital’s Medicare provider agreement on or before July 30, 2010.”

The letter states that the facility, which is San Bernardino County’s public hospital, has until Monday to submit a plan that could lead to a re-inspection and possibly stave off Medicare termination.

Health care funds

Medicare is the federal government’s health program for the elderly. Most hospitals rely heavily on Medicare reimbursements and usually close if they lose certification, which can take several years to happen.

Money from Medicare and Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program for the poor, makes up a little more than half of Arrowhead’s budget.

On Thursday, Arrowhead officials said they received the inspectors’ reports earlier in the week. They have been granted a May 17 extension to submit its correction plan to Medicare & Medicaid.

Fixes said under way

Officials said they have corrected almost all the problems that inspectors documented, some of which they were made aware before inspectors left after a 10-day evaluation in November.

Inspectors would have taken immediate action against the hospital if they had found patients in immediate jeopardy of serious injury or death, said hospital CEO Patrick Petre.

“It really does make us a better hospital,” Petre said. “We look at it like this: (Medicare & Medicaid) has the same issue that we do, patient care.”

Medicare & Medicaid has not yet publicly released reports for the Nov. 25, 2009, and Feb. 26, 2010, inspections during which it was determined that the hospital was out of federal compliance with several regulations.

It could be at least two weeks before they are made available, depending on when Medicare & Medicaid receives the hospital’s plan documenting how it has corrected problems.

nine areas noted

However, Medicare & Medicaid’s letter to Arrowhead officials states that regulators during their November inspection found that the hospital was out of compliance in nine areas including patients’ rights, quality assessment and performance improvement, infection control and nursing, pharmaceutical and surgical services. In February, inspectors found that the hospital still was out of compliance with patients’ rights regulations.

The April 30 letter is the second the hospital has received from Medicare & Medicaid in the past seven months.

In October, the agency warned hospital officials that the facility was out of compliance in three areas, including patients’ rights, following a July inspection.

Nurse investigated

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