HARRISBURG, Pa., Feb. 15, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Saying the state failed to properly oversee a Philadelphia abortion clinic at which one woman died and others were seriously injured, Governor Tom Corbett today announced sweeping changes in the two departments responsible.
"This doesn't even rise to the level of government run amok. It was government not running at all. To call this unacceptable doesn't say enough. It's despicable,'' Corbett said.
On Corbett's first full day in office, a Philadelphia County grand jury report was released to the public, revealing the horrors found inside the Women's Medical Society, a clinic run by Dr. Kermit Gosnell.
At least two women died as a result of botched late-term abortions, according to the grand jury report, some babies were born alive and then killed by having their spinal cords snipped by scissors and untrained personnel performed medical procedures, sometimes using unsterilized implements that spread venereal disease from patient to patient.
Gosnell and several employees have been charged with murder and numerous other offenses in the case.
In addition to the gruesome description of the clinic, the grand jury also revealed that complaints about unsafe and unsanitary conditions went unheeded for more than a decade until drug investigators finally put a stop to the business in February 2010.
"It will be up to a jury to decide Dr. Gosnell's guilt or innocence. It is up to me to decide how to stop such horrors from taking place again,'' Corbett said.
After receiving the report, Corbett ordered his nominees for Secretary of Health, Dr. Eli Avila, and Secretary of State, Carole Aichele, to review the grand jury's recommendation, identify the problems and come up with a plan of action to change the system that failed these women.
And, Corbett ordered that the people responsible be held accountable.
Seven individuals - employees from the Department of Health, as well as the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, a branch of the Department of State – are no longer employed by the state, having either resigned or been terminated since the situation came to light, Corbett said. In addition, four other former employees named in the grand jury investigation had previously resigned.
In addition, Corbett today announced changes in the Department of Health and Department of State, including new controls and conditions designed to protect the health and safety of women who use these facilities in the future.
Corbett also outlined some of the specific changes in each department.
At the Department of State:
- All complaints concerning a person or facility should be assigned to the same attorney. This will ensure proper management of each specific case.
- All attorneys will cross check all files, opened or closed, with other staff attorneys to ensure that any patterns of misconduct do not go unnoticed.
- Reports will be more detailed, including history of any prior complaints or violations.
- Attorneys will receive formal training on investigative procedures and instruction on rules and regulations, including prosecuting complaints.
At the Department of Health:
- Abortion clinics will now be held to a higher standard. Inspectors will come from the Division of Acute and Ambulatory Care, which is also responsible for inspecting Pennsylvania's hospitals and out-patient surgery facilities. Registered nurses from the Department of Health will be trained to inspect these types of facilities for quality assurance and enforce regulations.
- All facilities will be inspected annually. Additional random inspections will be done unannounced, including weekends and evenings.
- Abortion facilities will be added to the same Department of Health computer system used to monitor hospitals and other medical facilities. This will make sure inspections are done in a timely fashion and standards are met. The computerized system will also track complaints, serious events and investigations.
- Inspection reports will be posted and searchable on the Department of Health website, just like other healthcare facilities.
- If inspectors find a deficiency, plans of correction will be required within 10 days, submitted online and automatically be made available to the public on the department's website. Failure to comply will result in another on-site inspection. Failure to file a second plan of correction within a second 10-day period will result in an immediate suspension for the facility.
- Any facility that fails to report a serious incident – either to the state or the patient - will be fined up to $1,000 a day from the time of the serious event until the time the report is made. (A "serious event" is when a patient receives some level of harm, ranging from a minor, temporary injury to death, requiring additional health care treatment.)
- All serious events at abortion facilities will be reviewed within 48 hours by a physician and an on-site investigation will be conducted within five business days.
- Abortion clinics will be subject to the same complaint process as hospitals and other medical facilities in Pennsylvania.
- Abortion clinics will prominently display a poster with a 24-hour toll free number to the complaint line. Posters will be in English and Spanish. Any facility that fails to display the complaint information will be subject to possible suspension.
- Complaints will be taken from any source, entered into the computer system and assigned to the field office inspector, as they do for hospitals and surgical facilities. All complainants will receive a letter of acknowledgement and a follow-up letter after the investigation.
- All new abortion providers will be required to attend training on the state's rules and regulations. All hospitals will be trained about reporting complications from abortions.
Together, the two departments will:
- Establish a set mechanism for sharing monthly data between agencies, including complaints, serious events, complications, deaths and investigations.
- Establish a process for joint investigations by agencies, including time frames and responsibilities.
- The Governor's Office will continue, along with the departments of Health and State, to monitor the situation to decide whether additional action, either regulatory or legislative, is necessary.
Media contact: Kevin Harley, 717-783-1116
SOURCE Pennsylvania Office of the Governor