Asheville abortion clinic’s license suspended by state health agency

Written by on August 1, 2013 in Buncombe, Documents, Healthcare, Politics, Region, Top News
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Femcare pic

State health officials have given Femcare, an abortion clinic in Asheville, 10 days to show is it has met, or plans to meet, licensing requirements. The facility was ordered to close by yesterday afternoon. Jon Elliston/Carolina Public Press

Asheville’s only abortion clinic, Femcare, had a key license suspended yesterday by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and was ordered to close until various purported problems are corrected.

According to a DHHS news release, state inspectors conducted an unannounced inspection of the facility July 18 and 19 and found “egregious violations of existing rules that revealed an imminent threat to the health and safety of patients.” Officials ordered the facility to be closed by 5 p.m. yesterday.

The rules that were cited apply to surgeries that do not involve an overnight stay in a medical facility. Femcare failed to comply with 23 state regulations for ambulatory surgery centers, DHHS said.

According to the news release, inspectors found that Femcare had, among other violations, failed “to maintain anesthesia (nitrous oxide gas) delivery systems in good working condition, with torn masks and tubing held together with tape,” “to ensure emergency equipment had weekly checks to ensure the equipment was suitable for use in patient care and failed to ensure that emergency medicine wasn’t expired,” “to have a resuscitator available,” “to sweep and mop the operating room floor and failed to properly clean operating room beds,” “to have a director of nursing responsible and accountable for all nursing services,” “to have an agreement/contract with an anesthetist or anesthesiologist” and “to have an agreement/contract with a registered pharmacist to assure appropriate methods, procedures and controls for obtaining, dispensing, and administering drugs.”

At the same time, the North Carolina Medical Board’s records on Lorraine Cummings, Femcare’s owner and sole doctor, show no indications of malpractice.

According to the notice of suspension, inspection report and other documents that can be read in their entirety below, DHHS intends to revoke Femcare’s license soon.

Femcare has 10 days to respond with proof that it has brought its operations into compliance with the relevant rules, the documents say.

Femcare in the spotlight as NC’s new abortion law took shape

North Carolina’s new abortion law, signed by Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday, directed DHHS to change clinic operating rules and authorized it to “apply any requirement for the licensure of ambulatory surgical centers to the standards applicable to clinics certified by the Department to be suitable facilities for the performance of abortions.” A separate clause said that any new rules must do so without “unduly restricting access” to abortion services.

Because Femcare is the only abortion clinic in the state that has met the ambulatory surgical standards in the past, it’s been referenced as perhaps the only clinic in the state that might survive such new regulations. But until DHHS issues its new requirements, and the state’s other abortion clinics decide whether to invest the resources to meet them, it’s still an open question as to which clinics will survive in the coming years.

The new law directed DHHS to study the possibilities for new rules and report its findings by April 1, 2014, for consideration during next year’s short session of the General Assembly.

Clinic inspections rare, but may increase with new personnel

According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, a DHHS spokesperson said yesterday that two other N.C. abortion clinics had their licenses suspended earlier this year. One of those, in Charlotte, is operating again; another, in Durham, is still closed.

According to DHHS, Femcare’s last state inspection was in January 2007. During recent legislative debates about North Carolina’s newly enacted abortion law, officials from the department said they lack the personnel to conduct such inspections more frequently.

The department’s statement about Femcare alluded to the shortage of inspectors and a recently enacted attempt at a remedy.

DHHS’s Division of Health Service Regulation “is responsible for licensing, regulating and inspecting healthcare facilities, including hospitals, ambulatory surgical facilities, dialysis facilities, nursing homes and mental health facilities,” the news release said. “The Acute Care Licensure Section has ten full time staff who survey hundreds of facilities across the state. The recently passed (state) budget adds 10 full time employees to provide more frequent inspections of acute care facilities.”

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About the Author

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the Investigations and Open Government Editor at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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