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Asheville abortion clinic to close

11:18 PM, Jul 31, 2013   |    comments
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By Casey Blake / The Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE - The state Department of Health and Human Services suspended the license of a city abortion clinic, citing nearly two dozen safety violations discovered in a recent inspection.

FemCare of Asheville, Western North Carolina's only provider of surgical abortions, is the only clinic in the state that meets the standards of an ambulatory surgical center.

The clinic gained attention recently following the passage of a controversial abortion bill, which critics say could effectively close all clinics in the state except the Asheville site if DHHS imposes standards similar to those of an outpatient surgical center.

State officials said the clinic's license suspension was not related to the new abortion legislation.

Inspectors found "egregious violations of existing rules that revealed an imminent threat to the health and safety of patients," during a routine survey of FemCare of Asheville, according to a statement from the state DHHS office Wednesday.

Drexdal Pratt, director of DHHS' Division of Health Service Regulation, said in the statement that the clinic failed to meet 23 separate rules.

"We take rule violations very seriously and, when necessary, take firm action to prevent harm to patients and clients in the facilities that we license, regulate and inspect, Pratt said.

Dr. Lorraine Cummings late Wednesday issued the following statement on behalf of Femcare Inc.:

"Since the state's last site visit in August 2006 there have been no changes in our operating protocols, but increasing regulations require us to make changes," she said.

"Standards that were acceptable when we were last inspected have changed and, as soon as we were notified of them two weeks ago, we began the process of meeting each one of them.

"We have had no patient infections using our former protocols. We expect to be in compliance soon with the required standards and will return to serving our patients as soon as possible."

The safety violations

The report says the clinic failed to:

• Maintain anesthesia (nitrous oxide gas) delivery systems in good working condition, with torn masks and tubing held together with tape;

• 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;

• Have a resuscitator available;

• Sweep and mop the operating room floor and failed to properly clean operating room beds;

• Have a director of nursing responsible and accountable for all nursing services;

• Have an agreement or contract with an anesthetist or anesthesiologist; and

• Have an agreement or contract with a registered pharmacist to assure appropriate methods, procedures and controls for obtaining, dispensing and administering drugs.

The clinic is the third abortion provider in the state to be closed since May. A Charlotte clinic that was shut down earlier this year is back open, and a clinic in Durham shut down in June is still closed, DHHS spokesman Ricky Diaz said Wednesday.

The last closing of an abortion clinic before this year was in 2007, Diaz said.

Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday signed into law a measure directing state officials to regulate abortion clinics based on the same standards as those for outpatient surgical centers, a change that critics say will force most to close.

Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said Wednesday that he did not think the suspension was related to the new bill, and hoped the clinic would be up and running again soon.

The law, pushed through by the Republican-majority legislature in the session's waning days, directs the Department of Health and Human Services to revise the rules for abortion clinics. It follows similar actions by Republican-controlled legislatures in other states.

It's still up to DHHS to set the standards for clinics, but critics say the move will effectively close most of North Carolina's 16 abortion clinics because only one, in Asheville, meets the standards of an outpatient surgical center.

An ambulatory surgical center costs about $1 million more to build than an abortion clinic, Pratt told lawmakers earlier this month.

"I think this is continued evidence that the regulations we already have in place are working," said Melissa Reed, the vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood. "It is absolutely critical that every single clinic meet current regulations, and that any violations are met in a direct and speedy manner."

Reed said Planned Parenthood, which is not affiliated with FemCare, has never had a clinic shut down in North Carolina.

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