Feds may pull funding for Arizona State Hospital

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- The federal government is threatening to pull funding from the Arizona State Hospital after a recent inspection identified problems affecting patient care and safety.

State officials said Wednesday they've already taken corrective action and don't expect to lose federal funding.

A Nov. 12 letter to the hospital from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services gives officials until Friday to file an improvement plan. That would allow it to continue to draw federal Medicare funds at the state's mental hospital in Phoenix.

Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble said the plan is written and will be sent by overnight mail Thursday.

"We are not going to lose Medicare certification. That's not going to happen," Humble said.

The hospital's annual report shows it received $11 million from Medicare in 2011 and $52 million from the state general fund.

The Nov. 12 letter cites deficiencies in nursing care, patient rights and the hospital's oversight board, all identified during a survey conducted by a state health services division that inspects medical facilities across the state.

The hospital has about 320 patients in three units: a 120-bed unit for civilly committed mentally ill patients, another 120 beds for people sent to the hospital by criminal courts, and a sexually violent persons unit that holds 80 patients. The inspection covered only the civil commitment side.

Cory Nelson, the state's deputy director for behavioral health, said the hospital oversight board didn't have separate accounting for the civil and criminal sides, and in one case a person treated in another facility wasn't re-examined when they returned. A review of staffing also found that, in several cases, there were not enough nurses on duty to provide for the patients.

The third failure involved six patients who had injured themselves, violating a rule saying patients have a right to a safe environment.

"By its nature, the state hospital treats patients with very severe psychiatric illnesses," Nelson said. "Some of those illnesses include self-harm."

The patients were under intense supervision, but Humble said it "was not enough to prevent a bad outcome."

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