Local News

Feds could withdraw payments to Cherry Hospital

Posted September 1, 2008 10:34 a.m. EDT
Updated September 11, 2008 12:57 p.m. EDT

— A team reviewing Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro is recommending that insurance reimbursements for government programs be withdrawn.

Federal officials threatened to withdraw the payments after the April 29 death of a Steven Sabock, 50, who was left unattended for more than 22 hours while staff members played cards and watched television.

A team of state employees working on behalf of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services went last month to examine the hospital's operations and found Sunday that not enough changes had been made, Tom Lawrence, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services said Monday.

Lawrence said the recommendation would primarily affect Medicaid patients but that patients already at the hospital would be covered.

Future patients on Medicare and Medicaid will still be admitted to Cherry Hospital. Funding for their care, he said, would come from the DHHS budget.

Meanwhile, DHHS is still working to identify and resolve the issues and hope to have them corrected and reapply for federal funding  in the next several weeks.

Cherry Hospital, which serves more than 2,700 people a year in 36 eastern counties, has come under scrutiny in recent months after a number of incidents involving staff.

A federal report found Sabock sat in the same room for four work shifts, ate nothing the day he died and had little food in the three days preceding his death. Workers were supposed to be closely monitoring his condition and might have forged documents that said they had.

One of those employees has since resigned and the remaining were removed from direct patient care and disciplined.

Calling the punishment insufficient, DHHS Secretary Dempsey Benton asked the hospital's director, Dr. Jack St. Clair, to re-evaluate the disciplinary action and ordered the ward where Sabock died closed.

The report also faulted the hospital for an incident where a physician punched a patient with developmental disabilities after the teen bit him.

Four other hospital employees – two nurses and two health-care technicians, also facing criminal charges – were also fired last month in the wake of accusations related to a patient beating.

Benton has said that he still has confidence in St. Clair and that the director has made progress on other fronts in the hospital.

The hospital has been criticized before for poor patient care and patient deaths and was in jeopardy last fall of losing federal funding after CMS found failures in observation and documentation that resulted in the "elopement" of a patient, and failure to provide timely care of a patient needing emergency care.