Sherman Oaks Hospital Faces Medicare Cut in Spider Case

Times Staff Writer

A dispute over treatment of a spider bite on a transient’s leg may lead to the loss of Medicare insurance payments for a prominent hospital in Sherman Oaks, federal officials disclosed Friday.

Medicare accreditation for Sherman Oaks Community Hospital will be revoked on Nov. 20 unless the hospital overhauls its emergency-room policy, the Department of Health and Human Services said.

Hospital officials immediately vowed to comply with federal regulations in order to continue receiving Medicare payments, which pay hospital costs for about 35% of their patients.


“We thought we were in compliance, but we’ll certainly make any changes required,” said Marc Goldberg, administrator of the 156-bed hospital known for its burn center and pioneering AIDS care unit.

The Sherman Oaks hospital is the second San Fernando Valley-area facility to be threatened this week with the termination of Medicare benefits.

On Thursday, Burbank Community Hospital was cited by federal officials for a number of deficiencies and informed that its Medicare status will be revoked unless problems with health care and staffing are corrected. No deadline was set, however.

Treatment Dispute

The Burbank hospital’s investigation also began with a dispute over medical treatment of a transient--a seriously ill, lice-infested man who collapsed outside the hospital after being treated and released.

Sherman Oaks Community Hospital’s problems stem from a July incident involving a 25-year-old woman bitten by a spider while passing through the Valley with her boyfriend, officials said.

Federal health administrators said the woman was transferred from the private Sherman Oaks hospital to a public county hospital without receiving “stabilizing treatment” for dangerous deep-vein thrombophlebitis and pulmonary embolism.


Furthermore, investigators from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services found that the transfer took place “without the knowledge and agreement of the receiving facility”--the county’s Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar.

Investigators found six other instances where patients had been transferred to facilities without notification and without records, said Ronald S. Currie, chief of standards and certification for the federal Health Care Financing Administration.

Such transfers violate federal rules and “seriously limit the facility’s capacity to furnish an adequate level or quality of care or services and immediately jeopardizes the health and safety of patients,” Currie stated in a letter to Goldberg announcing the action.

Conclusions Disputed

Goldberg said late Friday that Sherman Oaks officials had not been notified. But he disputed official conclusions about the spider-bite incident.

“The treating doctor did not consider it an emergency,” Goldberg said. “If the doctor had been concerned, he would have admitted her.”

Goldberg speculated that the unidentified woman gave county doctors at Olive View “a different history” of her health that prompted them to view her injury more seriously.


He said the Sherman Oaks hospital never before has been threatened with the loss of its Medicare certification. Its current three-year accreditation runs through next March.

Although Sherman Oaks officials had thought that the spider-bite incident had been explained at the time of the county investigators’ visit to the hospital on Aug. 11, “we’ll be delighted to make any changes required,” Goldberg said.