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State: Vencor has 'deficiencies'

Regulators limit the Tampa hospital to only emergency admissions until it adopts a plan to improve medical care.

By KATHRYN WEXLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


TAMPA -- State regulators have barred Vencor Hospital-Tampa from admitting new patients after finding some patients were given the wrong medications or treatments that jeopardized their lives.

The moratorium was imposed May 19, one day after state officials went to Vencor's facility at 4555 S Manhattan Ave. to investigate a complaint about medical mistakes.

The order allows only emergency admissions until Vencor adopts a plan to improve medical care, said officials for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which regulates health care facilities in the state.

"There were some severe deficiencies," said Liz Dudek, assistant deputy director of managed care and health quality for the AHCA.

"We don't take those lightly," she said. "We're concerned about the health, safety and welfare of the residents that are there."

Errors cited by the state:

A patient was given two huge doses of Valium instead of his medication to control high blood pressure.

An antifungal medication was mixed incorrectly and given intravenously instead of through a bladder catheter, as ordered. Plus, it was administered for two hours a day when it was supposed to be administered for 24 hours a day.

A patient taking an antibiotic developed a skin rash in late April. But contrary to hospital policy, which mandates that pharmaceutical staff members begin investigating immediately, the pharmacy wasn't notified about the reaction for nine days and didn't begin investigating for another 11 days.

A nurse administering an appetite stimulant to a patient thought the medication was used to boost the immune system.

State officials would not disclose information about the patients or any complications resulting from the mistakes.

Vencor Inc. is the nation's second-largest nursing home provider with about 60 acute health care hospitals. The facility on Manhattan Avenue is one of two hospitals Vencor runs in Tampa and the smallest hospital in Hillsborough County, with 73 beds.

Vencor's troubles extend far beyond the recent admissions moratorium. Complaints about medical care have dogged the company for years.

In 1998, Vencor was fined $270,000 for evicting Medicaid patients from its nursing home at 4411 N Habana Ave. to make room for patients who could pay more.

Vencor, which gets more than half its revenue from Medicare and Medicaid, filed for bankruptcy protection in September 1999.

Then, in March, the U.S. Justice Department filed two suits against Vencor alleging fraud since 1992 and seeking more than $1.3-billion plus civil penalties.

Vencor officials, at headquarters in Louisville, Ky., did not respond to requests late Tuesday for interviews, but a statement was faxed from the Tampa hospital that read:

"Patient care is our number one concern and we take seriously every complaint brought to our attention by the state. We are filing a plan of correction with the state and are confident the state will confirm our compliance when they complete their follow-up survey."

AHCA spokesman Bruce Middlebrooks said the state agency is waiting for the company's plan. He said state regulators are watching to ensure no other violations occur.

"We're still monitoring the facility at this time," Middlebrooks said.

Dudek said Vencor immediately complied with a state directive to hire pharmaceutical and nursing consultants at the hospital.

Since January 1999 state regulators have issued about six moratoriums on admissions at Florida hospitals. The state can ultimately fine a facility for persistent violations or take measures to revoke the state license.

"We're looking to see they correct the problems we have found," Middlebrooks said. "That's our focus, to see that they come into compliance."

-- Kathryn Wexler can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or wexler@sptimes.com.

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