Tahoe surgery center can't see patients after inspection finds unsafe practices

CORRECTION -- 04/17/08 -- A spokesman for the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services was misquoted in a story Wednesday about the Lake Tahoe Surgery Center. Jack Cheevers said the highest penalty that could be imposed on an ambulatory surgery center is to stop its federal funding.

CARSON CITY -- Nevada public health officials said Tuesday the Lake Tahoe Surgery Center at Round Hill has been ordered to stop all patient care procedures following an inspection that revealed unsafe infection-control practices.

The inspection was conducted by a federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services team as part of random surveys at 18 surgery facilities around the state following the discovery of flawed procedures linked to a hepatitis C outbreak at a Las Vegas clinic.

The state Health Division's Bureau of Licensure and Certification, which issued the "cease patient care" order to the Tahoe center, part of Barton HealthCare System, said there was no evidence of any disease transmission as a result of practices there.

As of Tuesday afternoon, seven of the "surprise" inspections authorized by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had been completed, said Martha Framsted, a spokeswoman for the state's Health Division.

Three of the centers are in Northern Nevada and four in Southern Nevada, she said

Framsted would not reveal the names of those facilities, nor release the inspection reports, Tuesday.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokesman Jack Cheevers said some written information about inspected facilities isn't made available publicly until 10 days or two weeks after inspection reports are generated by surveyors.

The entire inspection report isn't public until 30 days after the facility itself has had an opportunity to review it, he said.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has the authority to stop procedures and impose fines.

"The ultimate penalty we can oppose is to stop federal funding, such as the loss of Medicare contracts,'' Cheevers said.

Linda Thompson, spokeswoman for Barton HealthCare, stated inspectors of the Tahoe facility were "extremely cautious, and rightfully so, for patient safety," but also said there was "never any risk to patient safety nor breach of sterile precautions" at the surgery center.

Thompson also said that scheduled patient surgeries are being handled at Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe. Barton HealthCare only last month acquired a 67 percent stake in the surgery center.

The Tahoe center went through an initial survey conducted by the state in mid-March, and was told that improvements were needed to prevent problems such as the spread of disease or infection, Framsted said.

The facility was closed from March 14 to March 18 to make the required changes, and its owners submitted a plan detailing the efforts on April 1. Federal inspectors made an unannounced visit to the center on Monday and returned on Tuesday to complete its inspection.

Framsted said the deficiencies cited by the federal team were different from the problems noted last month by the state inspectors.

Review-Journal writer Annette Wells contributed to this report.