DMC to sit on fed probe results

Joel Kurth, and Karen Bouffard

The Detroit Medical Center has received the results of a federal investigation into problems with unsterile instruments at its hospitals but won’t make them public until it’s required to do so.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokeswoman Elizabeth Schinderle confirmed the federal agency provided the DMC with a report on Sept. 15 detailing the findings of a two-day probe sparked by a Detroit News series documenting more than a decade of complaints about dirty, broken and incomplete surgical sets at the system’s Midtown campus.

Federal rules bar the agency from releasing it until the DMC responds or in 30 days, whichever comes first. The rules allow the DMC to voluntarily release the findings, but the system has declined a request from The News to do so.

“We continue to work with CMS in a manner consistent with current practices. Once the plan is approved by CMS we will make it available to the public,” Melanie Moss, a spokeswoman for the DMC, wrote in an email.

The investigation is focused on the DMC’s infection control and surgical operations at the Midtown campus of Children’s Hospital of Michigan and Detroit Receiving, Harper University, Hutzel Women’s and DMC Heart hospitals.

Based on 200 pages of internal emails and reports, The News found improperly sterilized equipment complicated operations from brain surgeries to spinal fusions, kept patients under anesthesia unnecessarily and led to cancellations of dozens of operations.

The DMC has said it is cooperating with investigators and fixing the issues. It maintains patients weren’t harmed because of improperly sterilized instruments, but won’t release records about infections to support the assertion.

Erica Mobley, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based Leapfrog Group that grades U.S. hospitals on quality, said the DMC should not make the public wait for the CMS report.

“It’s really their responsibility to their community to show that they are committed to transparency,” Mobley said Wednesday. “Yes, they should also come forward and say what their plans are for improvement, but that they should not withhold this information until they’ve had time to put all of those plans into place.”

Last year, Seattle Children’s Hospital hosted a press conference when problems were discovered at a sterile processing facility at one of its surgery centers. The hospital offered free blood-testing to all children who had surgery there since 2010, spending about $2 million to reassure parents their children had not been infected with HIV and other blood-borne illnesses.

The DMC has a space on its website that posts updates about the situation and the investigation, but its leaders have made few public statements about the issue.

“It’s been too secretive,” said the Rev. William Revely Jr., chairman of Unify Detroit Coalition, a nonprofit community group that sponsors health fairs and meets quarterly with DMC officials to discuss community concerns.

“There aren’t enough people willing to talk down there. They have had a lot of trust in the community, but the community doesn’t know what’s going on with the investigation.”

The federal report was delivered on the same day a state investigation — which is public — cited the DMC for eight health code violations related to lax training. The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs gave the system 60 days to fix the issues or face possible discipline including license suspension.

The DMC is allowed to continue surgeries during that time since state regulators concluded there is no “immediate risk” to patients, said Jason Moon, a spokesman for LARA.

Some members of the team of inspectors who wrote the state report also were contracted by CMS to investigate the DMC. Moon said he “can’t speak to specifics” but said CMS investigations generally are “more precise due to the specificity of federal laws.” Federal rules also allow regulators cite hospitals for more infractions related to clinical operations and infections, he said.

The Michigan health code doesn’t go into great detail about surgical instruments, except to say hospitals should keep them sterile, equipment should be checked regularly and sterile supplies should stay separate from unsterile ones.

The News reported this week that state investigators failed to spot dirty instruments during a routine inspection of the DMC in 2015, even as doctors were complaining to administrators about them. It was the first survey of the DMC’s sterilization facilities since 2010, Moon said.

Twitter: @joeltkurth

Twitter: @kbouffardDN