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Medicare says aim is to help hospital

Dave Moller

A Medicare official said Wednesday that the federal government’s recent warnings to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital are aimed not at injuring the hospital but at getting the site’s pharmacy problems fixed.

In a July 9 letter, Medicare officials threatened to cut off ties and payments to the hospital on or before Oct. 9 unless security problems in its pharmacy were addressed.

The problems were first found when an employee was caught stealing narcotics about 18 months ago. That employee was fired and a report of the incident was sent to the California Department of Health Services, hospital spokesman Gary Cooke said.

That caused the state to inspect the hospital’s drug dispensing operations in November 2003, and officials found several deficiencies that were reported to Medicare. Those deficiencies included unlocked or unattended drugs and pharmaceuticals that had unsigned orders or no documentation, Cooke said.

Those issues were supposed to be fixed, but in a second state review in April, the hospital failed again. That caused Medicare to send the strong letter that spelled potential disaster for the hospital, which has a 55 percent Medicare patient load.

Medicare official Steven Chickering said the hospital has sent a plan of action for its pharmaceutical practices and it is currently being reviewed. When it is deemed OK, another survey of the hospital will be done by the state, Chickering said.

“We don’t want to see them lose Medicare certification, but we want them to make the changes,” Chickering said.

“The letter was routine, but we want to let the hospital know they are not in compliance. It is serious.”

Cooke said the hospital is fully cooperating with the state and Medicare and does not think patient care has been compromised.

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