Federal investigators are satisfied that Terrell State Hospital has made substantive changes to its medical care that will help keep patients safe.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ruled last week that the state-run psychiatric hospital has corrected major problems at the northeast Texas facility, such as substandard nursing care, filthy conditions and faulty food, anesthesia and respiratory services.
Terrell’s problem with federal investigators began in April when the Austin American-Statesman made Medicare aware of the 2012 death of patient Ann Simmons. Simmons, 62, died at the Terrell hospital after being restrained for 55 hours for what hospital officials said were medical reasons. The Pittsburg resident died of a pulmonary embolism, a condition associated with dehydration and long periods of immobility.
Federal investigators said that faulty care killed Simmons and was continuing to threaten other patients. The hospital immediately stopped using medical restraints and closed its medical unit. A subsequent investigation discovered sweeping problems in other areas. Investigators gave the hospital until Oct. 18 to fix its problems, and had threatened to pull $4.6 million in Medicare money — 9 percent of the hospital’s budget —if the changes weren’t made.
Now that money is safe.
“We learn from our experiences, and at the end of the day our hospitals are better because of that,” said Carrie Williams, spokeswoman for the Department of State Health Services. “We’ll continue to build on our progress and apply what we’ve learned across the board. We’re never done.”
Officials say they cleaned the hospital and are giving nursing managers more time to work directly on the unit and mentor nurses. They’re regularly checking patient charts to determine whether improvements should be made.
The state has also taken steps to improve conditions at the nine other psychiatric hospitals it runs. Hospital system leaders are now being told to will conduct in-depth assessments at each hospital once a year. Previously, state leaders relied mostly on information provided by hospital superintendents.
State Health Services hired several people to improve hospital services, including an employee who focuses on how the hospitals handle unusual incidents, such as escapes, unexpected injuries and serious incidents of violence.
The hospital division is also changing the way it tracks systemwide data. The state already collects volumes of information in areas such as abuse, neglect, restraints, medication errors, admissions and injuries. Now officials are going through it more carefully, tracking problems, developing solutions and communicating more effectively with the hospitals, Williams said.