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Health Violations May Cost Hospital License, Funding

Times Staff Writer

An Inglewood hospital that specializes in abortions is in danger of losing its license and state and federal reimbursements because of unsanitary conditions and inadequate care, health officials said Wednesday.

And what one official described as “battlefield conditions” at Inglewood Women’s Hospital are nothing new, according to the health officials and a lawyer who is suing the hospital concerning the death of a patient in January.

The hospital performs nearly 1,000 abortions a month in its single operating room, according to state health officials who cited the hospital for 33 health violations in a 29-page report submitted to hospital administrator Sunny Crocker last week. Crocker did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

The report described patients being rushed through abortions performed in an operating room where tables and floors were stained with the blood of previous patients.

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Doctors at the hospital reportedly did not adequately monitor patients under anesthesia, and medical personnel did not wash their hands and equipment between operations, inspectors said.

Some patients “were encouraged to leave the facility before they felt comfortable doing so,” and some were not examined by doctors after surgery although the physicians signed paper work approving their discharge, according to the report.

The hospital, at 426 E. 99th St., is required to submit a letter to state and county health officials explaining how it will correct the problems.

Many of the same violations of the state’s Hospital Code and other laws were found during inspections conducted in February and May of this year, according to county Department of Health Services records.

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The hospital was also cited twice in 1986, said department official Robert Karp, who said one inspection came after a doctor who was fired from the facility complained about the number of patients being treated and inadequate care.

Each time, the hospital submitted the required correction plan and health officials accepted it.

The most “realistic” way the hospital could respond to the latest report would be to shut down voluntarily while making improvements, said Ralph Lopez, director of the state Health Facility Licensing and Certification Division.

“We expect a comprehensive, in-depth plan of correction from them,” said Lopez. “If we can’t accept it, we’re going to be faced with a serious decision” on whether to seek revocation of the hospital’s state license.

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Lopez said the only reaction from hospital administrators so far has been a request to extend a Dec. 15 deadline for a response, which was denied.

A separate complaint from County-USC Medical Center about Inglewood Women’s Hospital could lead to suspension of its Medicare and Medi-Cal funding, Lopez said.

In October, officials at County-USC Women’s Hospital reported that a woman who came to Inglewood Women’s Hospital for an abortion and suffered complications was transferred to County-USC in unstable condition and without notice, a violation of federal law against dumping patients in emergency rooms.

“We’ve investigated them to death in past years,” said Joseph Scally, regional program review chief for health standards and quality, an arm of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. But he said previous investigations had not found problems warranting suspension of funding.

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Scally said he has not received the new state report, but said proper procedure would be for federal authorities to order another inspection and investigation of the facility. If they determine that a violation occurred, federal officials could move to cut off funding within several weeks, he said. In effect, that would shut down the facility because it relies heavily on such payments, Scally said.

Inglewood Women’s Hospital is owned by Inglewood General Hospital Corp. Inc., a corporation headed by Dr. Morton Barke, health officials said. The hospital, Barke and Dr. Steven Pine are being sued for $12 million by the family of Belinda Byrd, a 37-year-old Inglewood woman and mother of three who died Jan. 27 after an abortion three days earlier.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that Pine performed an abortion that lacerated Byrd’s uterus and that she lay bleeding and unattended for three hours in a hospital bed until she suffered a heart attack. Paramedics were summoned and she was rushed to Centinela Medical Center in Inglewood, where she died.

Attorney Jack Schuler said the medical malpractice suit alleges “conscious disregard for Byrd’s safety and a gross departure from accepted medical practice.”

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“This can’t go on,” Schuler said. “The violations found by the Health Department existed before, during and after Belinda Byrd’s death. The hospital is always being audited. They submit a plan of correction and the violations continue.”

Neither Barke nor Pine could be reached for comment. Neither has responded to the suit.

A report on a February investigation into Byrd’s death conducted by the county Department of Health Services found violations including “no evidence of surgical outpatients . . . being evaluated by a physician prior to discharge” and substandard post-operative care.

However, nothing was found to indicate that Byrd’s death resulted from those violations, Karp said. Health officials have also investigated the deaths of three other women who were patients at the hospital during the past 10 years but also found no evidence that they were caused by poor treatment.

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The Inglewood City Council is scheduled to review next week a routine recommendation by the city staff to rezone the area around the hospital so that it can locate offices in a nearby building. Councilwoman Ann Wilk said she will question whether the council should approve the rezoning.

“If they’re in such trouble, I think we should hold off,” Wilk said. “I wouldn’t want to give credibility to what they’re doing.”


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