University of Chicago hospital investigated
■ CMS alleged that the emergency department failed to keep a service log or give a screening exam to an elderly man who later died.
By Brian Hedger — Posted April 9, 2009
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The University of Chicago Medical Center has been accused of an EMTALA violation after the Feb. 3 death of an elderly man in the hospital's emergency department.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services alleged in a March 17 letter to UCMC that the facility did not maintain a central emergency services log and failed to give the man a medical screening exam, as required under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.
The medical center has completed its own investigation, and the Illinois Dept. of Public Health conducted a survey of the facility for CMS on Feb. 18. The Joint Commission, which accredits U.S. hospitals, also is aware of the situation.
The medical center has submitted a corrective action plan to CMS, which stated in the letter that it has set a summer termination date for the hospital's participation in the Medicare program. A plan of correction also will be sent to the Joint Commission, UCMC spokesman John Easton said.
CMS public affairs specialist Cinthia Michel confirmed that the agency is reviewing the hospital's correction plan. There also will be a follow-up visit by IDPH before the scheduled termination date.
"Our investigation found that proper policies and procedures were in place, but staff members may not have followed the protocol," a U of C statement said. "Appropriate disciplinary actions are being taken."
The statement also said UCMC personnel have met with the patient's family to explain what happened and "express their sympathy."
The news comes amid a controversial plan to reduce beds at UCMC that was put on hold after a March memo from U of C President Robert Zimmer, PhD. The hospital said the alleged EMTALA violation occurred before any changes were made and is unrelated.
Zimmer sent the memo after media attention and rebukes from two national emergency physician groups brought scrutiny to the plan -- which had called for eliminating 10 of the medical center's 31 emergency beds. A protest letter was signed by residents and fellows at UCMC and sent to the school's board of trustees.
Zimmer said the newly appointed chair of the department of medicine, Everett Vokes, MD, would review the plan. Zimmer also said UCMC has a responsibility to offer high-quality care to the surrounding area, which is largely minority and poor.
"We are a university embedded in multiple communities beyond ourselves," he wrote. "We benefit from being part of these communities, and we have a corresponding obligation to contribute to their well-being."