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Tarrant County officials seek more JPS oversight

FORT WORTH -- Tarrant County Commissioners on Tuesday called for more oversight at John Peter Smith Hospital as the taxpayer-supported county health system works to correct dozens of deficiencies revealed during recent inspections by state officials and its hospital accrediting agency.

County Judge Glen Whitley said he would like JPS officials to update commissioners monthly as the hospital district, which does business as the JPS Health Network, attempts to correct 36 problems cited by inspectors with the Texas Department of State Health Services and The Joint Commission, which accredits health care providers to receive federal funding.

Whitley also suggested that internal controls or an outside consultant monitor JPS’s progress in correcting the problems, which included 36 deficiencies, including infection control issues, records mismanagement and patient privacy violations.

“I think it is a great facility over there. I still think it gives some of the best care you can get in the region,” Whitley said.

JPS interim Chief Executive Robert Earley told commissioners that the hospital district is working this summer to correct the shortcomings uncovered by the inspections.

Commissioners have oversight of JPS through hospital board appointments and they approve the hospital district’s tax rate and budget.

Surprise inspections last month by state health officials and a national hospital accrediting agency revealed dozens of problems throughout the county’s public health system.

Earley said that many of the shortcomings were fixed by opening a new patient pavilion. JPS recently opened the building, which replaces a decades-old portion of John Peter Smith Hospital.

“We have privacy issues ... because often times we reach capacity and put people, not behind doors, but behind curtains,” he said. ``A great deal of that has been remedied by moving into the new patient pavilion. But when we hit capacity (in the new building) we will run into that problem again.”

He also said some of the infection control issues will be corrected as JPS replaces is aging laundry system. In late May, the JPS board of managers fired the environmental services company, which handles housekeeping and trash disposal for the county-owned hospitals and clinics.

“Our quality committee asked that on every one of these points they get a monthly update from staff,” Earley said. “You don’t want to wipe your brow and say you’ve fixed them. Any time you have these groups come through to do an audit, they are going to find issues.”

JPS Board Chairman Steve Montgomery told commissioners that he is in the process of putting together an 11-person panel to select a national search firm to find a new chief executive. The JPS board accepted David Cecero’s resignation in May and then named Earley the interim CEO in June.

Cecero is being paid about $1.4 million through July 2009 through a negotiated severance.

“I would like you to look at the other public hospitals in Texas and somewhat mirror what they have in regards to compensations, incentives and severance packages,” said Whitley, who was dissatisfied that Cecero was given two year’s salary at his departure.

Commissioners also asked that JPS provide a preview of their 2008-09 budget and to consider a cut in the hospital tax rate, which is 23.0397 cents per $100 of assessed value. The hospital board cut the tax rate last year by 1/2-cent.

JPS pocketed about a $97 million surplus last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 2008.

Whitley said he wants JPS officials to focus on access to care, patient quality issues and overall financial stability.