Government report finds fault with Joint Commission
■ But the accreditation organization said the GAO study critical of its inspections is misleading.
By Damon Adams — Posted Aug. 16, 2004
A new government report has found problems at hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. In response, two legislators are proposing greater government oversight of JCAHO's hospital accreditation process.
The Government Accountability Office reviewed state surveys and found problems at 157 of 500 hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission.
JCAHO's surveys missed problems at 123 of those 157 hospitals during the study period of 2000-2002, the report said. JCAHO did not identify the majority of deficiencies in Medicare requirements found by state agencies.
The report, released July 20, cited inadequacies in nursing practices, fire safety and physical environment problems as "serious deficiencies that could endanger multiple patients." The GAO said Congress should consider giving the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services the same authority over JCAHO's hospital accreditation program that it has over other accreditation programs.
"This report raises serious concerns about the ability of the hospital accreditation process to assure compliance with Medicare's requirements. While it would be unreasonable to conclude, based on this investigation, that there's widespread failure within the system, deliberate action is long overdue," Rep. Pete Stark, (D, Calif.), said in a statement.
On the day of the report's release, Stark and Sen. Charles Grassley, (R, Iowa), introduced legislation that would give CMS increased oversight authority over the Joint Commission. JCAHO said it supported the legislation for increased accountability. But the Illinois-based organization said the report's findings were misleading, adding that it was irresponsible to alarm the public with statistics that had little meaning. JCAHO also said the report did not reflect the true oversight of the nation's hospitals.
"The most important fact is the Joint Commission-accredited hospitals evaluated in this study were found to be in compliance with 98% of the Medicare [requirements] by the state survey agencies. This reality is acknowledged but downplayed in the GAO report," said JCAHO President Dennis O'Leary, MD.
Dr. O'Leary said the report focused on hospital surveys conducted before the organization implemented its new accreditation process.