Calhoun-Liberty Hospital addressing findings in AHCA’s critical report

Ruth Attaway, standing at right of Rev. R.B. Holmes, said her staff is already  correcting deficiencies found by AHCA.

Ruth Attaway, standing at right of Rev. R.B. Holmes, said her staff is already
correcting deficiencies found by AHCA.

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

Ruth Attaway was in the midst of putting in place measures that she figured would be necessary to improve Calhoun-Liberty Hospital at the time when Barbara Dawson died while seeking medical assistance.

Some of what Attaway, CEO at the hospital, didn’t get fixed was among 10 deficiencies that the Agency for Health Care Administration found during its investigation of Dawson’s death in December. AHCA has given the hospital administration a Feb. 19 deadline for fixing those deficiencies and it must also hire a physician certified in emergency medicine by March 1.

In its 79-page report, AHCA made several recommendations and requests for policy changes to ensure proper patient care. It even mentioned possible violations of Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), a federal law that prohibits hospitals from refusing care to emergency room patients.

Attaway said the hospital will meet the first deadline, but she told reporters during a press conference last week that she was concerned about the timing to hire the emergency room physician on short notice. AHCA disclosed its findings last week, following an investigation that it started a week after Dawson’s death.

Her commitment to improve service and follow state and federal guidelines at Calhoun-Liberty Hospital remain the same since she came out of retirement to take the job a few months ago, Attaway said.

“This hospital is necessary and I’m passionate about that,” she said. “I don’t want just to be a place that the ambulance stops. I want us to be a place that provides the very highest level of medical care that we can with our (funding) restrictions.”

But the hospital stands to lose its funding from Medicaid patients if it doesn’t meet AHCA’s deadline for corrective measures. The hospital also will be fined, AHCA said in a released statement.

Attaway said she wasn’t sure about the amount of the fine, although it has been reported to be $100,000.

“Our Agency takes very seriously our responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all patients and to hold any health care facility that fails to do so accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” said AHCA secretary Elizabeth Dudek.

Immediately after the Dawson incident, Attaway announced that she had taken action against three employees at the hospital. Only one of those remains at work in a reassigned role, while one resigned and the other is on administrative leave without pay.

As part of her plan for change, Attaway said she’s hired an emergency room director and a compliance and risk manager. The hospital also has in place a new customer service staffer, who will oversee training on EMTALA laws among other things pertaining to customer care, Attaway said.

A task force that was formed after Dawson’s death, with help from Rev. R.B. Holmes, president of the National Action Network, also is assisting Attaway’s efforts.

“We need this hospital,” Holmes said. “Once we get through this process, the hospital is going to be stronger and much better. We must not close the hospital. We cannot lose a rural hospital in the 21st century.”