Funding restored to hospital BALTIMORE COUNTY

January 21, 1993|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Staff Writer

An article in The Sun last Thursday implied that in 1986 the Springfield Hospital Center temporarily lost its Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements because it failed a federal inspection. In fact, payments never ceased, because problems noted by inspectors were quickly corrected. The error was based on incorrect information from the state Health Department.

, The Sun regrets the errors.

The state-run Spring Grove Hospital has regained the right to collect federal payments for many of its psychiatric patients -- a designation it lost eight years ago because of overcrowding, deteriorating buildings and other problems.

The blessings of the federal Health Care Financing Administration could reap the hospital $3 million a year in Medicaid and Medicare payments, acting Superintendent William B. Landis said yesterday.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

In the past two years, he said, the state has spent more than $1 million to replace fire alarms, upgrade buildings and make other improvements. To reduce overcrowding, officials said, the state referred more patients to group homes and phased out the facility's nursing home.

In 1986, Spring Grove bulged with approximately 500 patients -- compared with an average of 360 today. Mr. Landis said the institution has raised its staff-to-patient ratio by retaining its nursing and medical staff at the previous levels. Budget cuts have reduced the size of its housekeeping and dietary staffs, personnel not included in ratios that show how much direct care patients receive.

The Catonsville hospital has lost out on millions of dollars each year since 1986, when the federal agency stripped the certification that entitles Spring Grove to claim federal reimbursements.

News of the restoration came last week in a letter to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"I think that's wonderful," Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini said yesterday. "In spite of difficult budget problems we were able to work at bringing Spring Grove back onto the system."

Besides overcrowding and deteriorating buildings, Spring Grove was originally cited for failing to document adequately the treatment given to patients. Although that implies a clerical problem, poor record-keeping is widely seen as evidence that patients are not receiving adequate treatment.

State officials decided to delay making improvements needed for recertification, instead sinking resources into another psychiatric hospital that had also failed inspection.

That hospital, the Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville, passed inspection two years ago -- leaving Spring Grove the only state institution failing to meet the federal standards.

The restoration closely followed the decision of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, a professional organization, to give its stamp of approval to Spring Grove.

The Chicago-based group denied accreditation to Spring Grove in 1976, and the hospital has lacked it ever since.

The private organization has no direct effect on a hospital's eligibility for public funds, but its approval exerts a powerful influence both on public and private insurers.

"It's very important in assuring that the hospital is doing the kind of job that is up to the standards of the country," said Dr. Stuart B. Silver, director of the state Mental Hygiene Administration.

Although most of Spring Grove's patients are indigent, fewer than a quarter qualify for federal reimbursements. Medicaid reimburses the state for psychiatric patients who are 65 and older, while Medicare pays for younger patients with certain disabilities.

Technically, the actions by the federal and private agencies also qualify Spring Grove for private insurance payments, but Mr. Landis said few patients carry such insurance.

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