State investigates complaints about Valdez hospital

Posted: Sunday, July 22, 2001

VALDEZ (AP) -- State and federal investigators are looking into complaints of unprofeessional conduct at the Valdez hospital.

Inspectors with the state office of Health Facilities Licensing and Certification came to Valdez at the end of June to interview administrators and nursing staff in response to complaints from patients.

Among the complaints:

--A physician's daughter, a minor, was allowed to assist in placing a cast on a patient's arm. The doctor turned down the offer of assistance from a member of the nursing staff.

--In May, a different doctor had a child in the operating room while surgery was being performed. The child was in the room without the consent of the patient. Further investigation by state officials revealed that the hospital does not have a policy in place concerning non-patient-related observers in the operating room.

--In late May, a vaginal exam was performed on a pregnant woman while the doctor had his 2-month-old infant and 4-year-old child in the room with him. He had asked and received permission from the patient for the children to be present.

--In early June, a 79-year-old patient was brought into the emergency room with pain in the left hip. While working on the patient, a doctor entered the X-ray room with his 4-year-old child. The patient agreed that the child could remain in the room during the procedure. The doctor placed the child on the X-ray table next to the patient. When the doctor began the hip manipulation procedure, the patient cried out in pain. The cries frightened the child. The doctor took the child out of the room leaving the patient for two to three minutes.

--In mid-May, the on-call physician came in with his 2-month-old infant to evaluate a patient. While evaluating the patient, the 2-month-old infant was in a front-pack baby carrier within only a few inches from the patient during the examination.

--In late May, a doctor had his child remain in the room while a liver biopsy was performed. The patient had consented to the child's presence.

The hospital has 10 days to respond to the state's finding with a detailed report on how the complaints have been addressed and the policy corrected.

''The doctors see nothing wrong, but the state and feds do,'' James Culley, chief executive officer of the Valdez Regional Health Authority, told The Valdez Vanguard. The health authority operates the Valdez hospital.

Culley points to a lawsuit in Wrangell where a doctor allowed his child to assist in the care of a patient. He said he doesn't want to repeat the situation in Valdez.

Culley said he is concerned that the children of the physicians in question have had no training or education with such issues as blood-born pathogens, that their visits were pressed upon the patients at the last moment, and that with the children in the room, the doctors could not give the patient undivided attention.

''We had a patient cry out in pain and the doctor had to leave to take his child out of there because he was frightened,'' Culley said. ''We have a vaginal exam on a pregnant woman with an infant and a 4-year-old daughter present.''

Culley said no action will be taken against the physicians by the hospital though the hospital itself must answer the complaints to the satisfaction of the state or face the potential of being shut down.

''And once you are shut down, to get re-certified all your systems, such as fire sprinklers and alarms, must be updated, they cannot be grandfathered in,'' Culley said.

The hospital has drafted a number of new policies primarily in the area of visitor control, Culley said. Before an individual will be allowed to visit areas such as an operating room, prior permission must be obtained from the patient, the physician, the nurse, and a hospital administrator. The visitor also must have some training in the areas of health sciences and patient rights, said Culley.

The new policies will go before the hospital's quality review board on July 25.

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