The decision by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations to downgrade Anne Arundel Medical Center's rating is no cause for patients to panic.
Although the Annapolis hospital has been put on probation and ordered to make changes, the oral and written reports from a surprise inspection by the commission on March 3 make it clear that AAMC's shortcoming is in its documentation of policies and training procedures within the pharmacy department, not in its care of patients.
The hospital's pharmacy has been the focus of concern since January when a pharmacist whose license had lapsed made a mistake in filling the prescriptions given to three infants in the hospital's neonatal unit. The infants developed breathing problems and had to be placed on a respirator. The pharmacist was fired and criminal charges were brought against her. The babies survived and have been released from the hospital.
Hospital officials believed they had corrected the problems that led to the mistake by hiring a new pharmacy director, instituting a new system to track pharmacy licenses, tightening storage guidelines for medicines, increasing security and implementing new training programs. But the Joint Commission, a voluntary accrediting agency, still found lapses in several of those areas and has told the hospital to correct the problems or risk loss of accreditation. State regulators have rushed to defend AAMC, saying their own inspectors have found no outstanding problems at the hospital.
Officials with the Maryland Hospital Association questioned whether the Joint Commission had overreacted and speculated that the county institution may be the victim of a new get-tough campaign coming after recent national media reports of mistakes at other hospitals, such as a Tampa facility that lost its accreditation after one patient had the wrong leg amputated there and another died after being mistakenly removed from a ventilator, and a Boston institution that administered overdoses of an anti-cancer drug, causing one fatality.
Whatever the reason, AAMC officials know that in order to retain the important accreditation, they have no choice but to take another look at their policies, send another report to the Joint Commission and submit to another inspection in the hope of wiping away any lingering doubts.
None of this is any reason to panic. In fact, patients ought to feel reassured that such precautions are being taken for their protection.