By Mark Tosczak
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center will be able to continue to bill Medicare as it has, the federal agency that oversees the government insurance program said Friday.
An official from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent a letter to Wake Forest Baptist CEO Julia Ann Freischlag Friday notifying her that the hospital was in compliance with Medicare’s rules.
“We are very pleased that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and its representing agency in North Carolina, the Division of Health Service Regulation, have recognized the thorough response of our pathology staff and physicians in deployment of the corrective actions we have put in place to address the concerns raised,” said Dr. Kevin P. High, president of Wake Forest Baptist, said in a statement. “We welcomed the opportunity to work with the surveyors.”
On Monday, a team of state hospital surveyors visited the hospital for what was at least the second inspection this year, part of an effort to see if the Wake Forest Baptist’s efforts to fix problems with its pathology lab were adequate to return the hospital to Medicare’s good graces.
Last fall the medical center discovered there had been errors in its pathology lab that led to some patients being erroneously treated for breast cancer, including receiving surgery and radiation therapy they didn’t need, and also delayed treatment for at least one patient who was informed, in error, she did not have breast cancer.
Other patients were also affected, including a North Wilkesboro woman who had unnecessary surgery on her mouth that’s left her with pain, numbness and other after effects.
After discovering those errors, the hospital began reviewing more than 9,000 cases that had passed through its pathology lab. Medical center leaders also told state inspectors during interviews in February that the former head of the pathology lab no longer worked for the hospital and that a new director of surgical pathology had been appointed.
But the inspection team discovered other problems during their visit in February, including a lack of proper equipment maintenance in the lab, a lack of training and out-of-date supplies. Wake Forest Baptist told the government inspectors that it was instituting “dual reads” for breast cancer pathology, where tissue suspected of being cancerous is examined by two doctors.
“Thanks to the culture of safety that exists at the medical center, which encourages all of our employees to speak up if they see something that is important to patient care and safety, we were able to recognize and rectify this situation, improving the quality of care that we provide,” High said. “Our patients are our highest priority and we are privileged to continue to serve them.”