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Agencies look into doctor suspensions

Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, which suspended nine cardiologists last month, must explain those suspensions to investigators for Medicare and to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

Representatives from both organizations say they want to ensure that patients at the Hudson hospital received appropriate care. The nine doctors were suspended from performing interventional procedures on Dec. 8 after an independent group of heart doctors examined hospital records of angioplasties performed in 2003.

The experts found the doctors, in some instances, performed angioplasties on arteries that were not significantly clogged with plaque, propped open clogged arteries with stents of the wrong size or type, used incorrect or inadequate medicines to treat coronary artery disease or failed to maintain complete records.

The hospital has refused to name the nine cardiologists, identify the experts or release the experts' report, despite requests for the information from the St. Petersburg Times and the Florida Department of Health, which licenses physicians. Regional's attorneys have gone to court to keep that information confidential.

Regional Medical Center spokesman Kurt Conover did not respond to two telephone messages Wednesday seeking comment on the Medicare investigation or the accrediting board's inquiry.

Today, officials at the Atlanta office of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will ask the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration to investigate the incidents leading to the suspensions, said Michael Henderson, the agency's public affairs specialist.

Medicare's interest came after the Times called Henderson seeking information about the repercussions of the suspensions. Several hospital patients had contacted the newspaper, asking if Medicare would pay their bills if it was found the procedures were unnecessary.

"I don't know yet," Henderson said in response. "There hasn't been an investigation (of the procedures) in terms of us. We don't know anything until we request the state to investigate it for us."

As for the accreditation organization, spokesman Mark Fortsneger said the Joint Commission's "office of quality monitoring became aware of the situation when a complaint was filed on Dec. 20."

"We requested a response from the medical center to the allegations of the complaint filed," Fortsneger said. "They have until mid January to respond."

The Joint Commission can accept the hospital's response as an adequate explanation of events and actions, he said. The accrediting organization may also "conduct a special survey of the hospital, whether announced or unannounced, flag it in a database to see if there's a trend or pattern of patient safety or quality care issues for further review."

Only rarely do hospitals lose their accreditation, Fortsneger said.