News: Quick Takes

UNC Hospitals confident accreditation agency will give it a clean bill of health

UNC Medical Center, Chapel Hill (Image by Yeungb, Wikicommons)
UNC Medical Center, Chapel Hill (Image by Yeungb, Wikicommons)

UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill expects to regain its clean standing soon. 

The flagship facility of UNC Health Care was placed on probation after receiving a preliminary denial of accreditation because of issues with psychiatric treatment. 

Its plans of correction have been accepted by the Joint Commission — an independent, nonprofit accrediting organization that certifies 80% of all U.S. hospitals — and leadership is prepared for a reinspection within the week. 

“We’re confident that we will get through the survey in good standing,” President of UNC Hospitals Gary Park said in a Tuesday conference call with the executive committee of UNC Health Care’s Board of Directors. 

The hospitals are accused of failing to assess suicide risks among their patients, leaving ligature risks — spots where a suicidal patient could choke or hang themselves — exposed where mental health patients could access them. It also was accused of lax medication management, and of breaking cleanliness standards for behavioral-health patients, according to an internal document obtained by Carolina Journal.

The accreditation agency first conducted the triennial accreditation survey in July. 

“They’ve accepted our plans of correction, so they will be returning … to make sure we’ve implemented everything we said we’d implement,” Park said of Joint Commission reviewers. “Our people have worked very hard to get a handle on these corrections. … We’re anxious to have them show up on campus.”

Hospitals face a Preliminary Denial of Accreditation when there’s an immediate threat to health and safety, a submission of falsified documents or misrepresented information, a lack of a required license, or significant noncompliance with Joint Commission standards, according to the Joint Commission.

“To be clear: There was no finding of any immediate threats to patient health and safety,” UNC Health Care spokesman Alan Wolf said in an email.

The accreditation was likely never in actual danger, said Richard Vedder, senior fellow at the Independent Institute. Stripping a hospital of accreditation is so extreme it’s rarely ever done. 

Of the hospitals found to be in violation of Medicare standards, less than 1% lost their accreditation in 2014. Though in more than 30 instances, violations were so severe that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Studies said they had caused, or were likely to cause, a risk of serious injury or death to patients, a Wall Street Journal investigation found. 

“Loss of accreditation is a blunt instrument. It’s like dropping a nuclear bomb,” Vedder said. “Nuclear bombs have enormous power, but people never use them because the implications are too great and the costs are too high. It’s the same with accreditation. There’s usually some negotiations that go on instead to mitigate it. But that shows you that accreditation is mired with a lack of transparency.”