The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, a federal agency within the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, has concluded an investigation into patient care violations at Sutter Solano Medical Center that pose an “immediate and serious threat to the health and safety of patients.”
The violations, which are related to grave shortcomings in the hospital’s anesthesia dept., must be corrected by Tuesday or the agency could terminate Sutter Solano’s Medicare and Medicaid funding, which make up a significant portion of the hospital’s revenue. The agency stated that pharmaceutical services are also “out of compliance”. Federal officials said such action is highly unusual and only taken in the most dangerous and extreme situations.
Frontline health care workers at Sutter Solano have been alarmed at the reaction by the hospital administration, which is designed to hide the investigation from patients and the public and to silence caregivers. Since the federal agency’s announcement, the CEO has held employee forums at which she has accused caregivers of leaking information to the press and implied that cooperating with investigators was strongly discouraged. This morning, an administrator was seen removing all the copies of the Times Herald, a Vallejo newspaper which had a front page article about the investigation, from the vending machine in front of the hospital.
The efforts to hide the investigation and silence caregivers at Sutter Solano is symptomatic of the misguided organizational culture at parent company Sutter Health. In a series of scandals over the past few months, Sutter has sought time and again to censor criticism and to create a climate of fear among employees, rather than accepting its errors with honesty and working to solve problems so patients are assured quality care. At Sutter Delta, a registered nurse was disciplined for speaking out about Sutter’s failure to abide by the nurse-to-patient ratio law. Also at Delta, a licensed vocational nurse was disciplined after speaking to an official from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.
Another aspect of Sutter's dysfunctional culture is its effort to paper over problems with expensive advertising campaigns. In the last 5 weeks alone, it has spent an estimated half million dollars on a PR campaign which includes radio and full page newspaper ads. The ads are an attempt to repair Sutter’s sagging image and deflect intense and growing criticism from patient advocates, elected leaders, environmentalists, clergy and caregivers. The members of the Health Care Workers Union, SEIU 250, urge Sutter to correct the problems found during the investigation so that Solano Medical Center continues to receive much needed Medicare and Medicaid funding and Vallejo area patients have continued access to care.