Cochise Regional Hospital spent two years in violation of its state health license by not offering surgery to patients, a newly released report says.
The hospital has agreed to pay a civil fine of $4,250 to the Arizona Department of Health Services following an investigation that turned up numerous problems with patient safety.
The 25-bed hospital is near the U.S.-Mexico border about 115 miles southeast of Tucson in Douglas, and until recently was known as the Southeast Arizona Medical Center. On April 16, hospital officials agreed to pay the state fine for numerous violations, including having no doctors credentialed to perform surgery and failing to keep the facility clean enough “to prevent the spread of infection,” state records show.
The hospital has been in financial distress, and its former operators from the nonprofit Community Healthcare of Douglas Inc. filed for federal bankruptcy reorganization last year.
On Jan. 25, the hospital was acquired by the nonprofit Douglas Community Hospital Inc., which is working closely with the People’s Choice Hospital Group of Chicago — a company that specializes in financially distressed facilities.
Roberta Berry, the Cochise Regional Hospital official who signed the enforcement agreement with the state, was unavailable for comment Thursday and Friday.
Chris Alise, who is the vice president of finance for People’s Choice, said Friday that the hospital filed a detailed plan of correction and plans to offer surgery services in the future. He said the hospital is committed to improving and to serving the community’s needs for the long run.
By forming partnerships, the hospital is investing $1 million in equipment and $2 million into electronic health records, he said.
“The hospital has gone through several bankruptcies and several owners. The goal now is really to overhaul operations and infrastructure and not follow the mistakes of the past,” Alise said.
Cochise Regional Hospital is now on a provisional license, which means it could lose its license if it is not complying state laws and rules. The hospital “will require significant focus on the processes and systems to ensure compliance,” said Connie Belden, bureau chief of the state’s bureau of medical licensing.
Belden confirmed the hospital has submitted a plan of correction and the plan has been reviewed. State officials will evaluate the hospital through an on-site visit, she said. In the signed enforcement agreement, state officials said the hospital is now subject to “frequent monitoring by the department.”
The state’s report says the operating rooms had not been cleaned and maintained since July 2012, which was the last time any surgery had been performed there, specifically saying, “ … the operating room areas had not been maintained and were not suitable for surgical services at the time of the survey.”
To be licensed as a general hospital — the license Cochise Regional holds — Arizona hospitals must provide surgical services.
In one case cited in the report, a physician ordered a sitter for a psychiatric patient who was determined to be a danger to self and others, but the hospital did not provide someone for five hours. By then, the patient “eloped,” which is a medical term that means the patient left the premises while in a decreased mental capacity. Eloping patients are often at risk for serious harm. The report says the patient had a history of eloping.
Other violations cited in the state report:
- A patient was given the wrong dose of medication and as a result, the patient’s blood pressure dropped to an extremely low level of 100/30.
- The hospital failed to ensure the nursing staff was trained and competent to read and interpret cardiac rhythms of patients on telemetry.
- Clean equipment was not separated from dirty areas in the emergency department.
- The respiratory therapy storage room had dirt and dust on the shelves and floor.
Alise said many hospitals around the country, especially those in rural areas, are facing financial struggles. Traditional business models no longer work, so new models must be created, he said.
“When these regional hospitals struggle and patients have to go farther away it has a very negative impact on the town and economy,” he said. “The goal is to keep care local.”