By Marlena Hartz
New Mexico Department of Health officials did substantiate an allegation against Plains Regional Medical Center during a February inspection of the hospital.
But federal regulations bind them from releasing their findings to the public expeditiously, according to David Rodriguez, chief of the Health, Facility, Licensing, and Certification Bureau.
Rodriguez said “the public doesn’t fit into” the process of citation until after the hospital has been given a chance to respond to and fix any allegations.
That day is months away.
A federal regulatory agency has to first complete a report about the problem, which will not be finished for another 30 to 45 days, Rodriguez said. The agency then must send the report to the hospital, and once it has been received, the hospital has up to 60 days to address the contents of the report before the public is informed of the problem.
“That way when the public gets notified, they are getting a response of how that facility is going to correct that problem, to ensure that from happening again,” Rodriguez said. He added, “I think that if I was a provider, I would want to be afforded due process.”
The only way the details of the hospital’s alleged wrongdoing will be released any sooner is if the hospital responds to the report in less than 60 days, Rodriguez said.
Reports of the Health Department’s visit to the hospital surfaced last week, just before hospital Administrator Brian Bentley resigned. Officials have not said if the Health Department’s visit is related to Bentley’s resignation. Bentley has not returned numerous telephone calls seeking comment.
The hospital is the region’s largest, serving more than 110,000 people living within a 100-mile radius of Clovis, according to its Web site.
The interim administrator assigned to the hospital said he does not know the alleged area in which the hospital erred. Yet, he assured present and future patients that the hospital is safe.
“It doesn’t hinder the operation of the hospital in any way,” said Carl Fitch of Las Vegas, Nev., who moved into the interim position on Tuesday.
“This (an allegation of wrongdoing) is not an unusual occurrence in the life of a hospital,” Fitch said.
Since he retired as the chief executive officer of a medical center in Las Vegas, Fitch said he has been employed with the Compass Group of Cincinnati, which provides interim administrators for hospitals around the country.
Fitch has agreed to serve Plains Regional Medical Center for four months, he said, and he will be actively involved in responding to federal allegations against the hospital.
“I have spent a lot of time,” Fitch said, “trying to understand the hospital and prepare myself to work within the hospital.”
A spokesperson from PRMC’s parent company, Presbyterian, also refused to divulge details of the allegation against the hospital. “We will respect the process,” he said.