Texas hospital's record draws scrutiny after Ebola snafu

Tracy Connor
The Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas October 1, 2014.
Mike Stone | Reuters

The Texas hospital that admits it mistakenly sent home a man with Ebola has a spotty emergency room record, with waits well above the national and state averages, according to federal data. In addition, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital has been penalized by the federal government three years in a row for having too many patients who had to be readmitted within 30 days of discharge, although its record in that area is improving.

The 658-bed hospital is under intensifying scrutiny because it sent home Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who showed up in the emergency room with a fever only to be misdiagnosed and released. Two days later, Duncan returned to the hospital, where he tested positive for Ebola. In the interim, he was contagious and dozens of people may have had contact with him.

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The hospital blamed a software error — since corrected — for failing to transmit a nurse's notation that Duncan was from a virus zone to the doctors who made the decision to discharge him. But data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show the hospital did not have a sterling record before the Ebola mistake.

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In seven categories of emergency room care, Texas Health in Dallas did significantly worse than other hospitals. For instance, the average time patients spent in the ER before being admitted was 352 minutes, compared to 274 minutes around the nation and the state. Similarly, patients who are told they will be admitted spend an average of 170 minutes in the ER waiting for a room, compared to 99 minutes elsewhere. Patients also wait an average of 52 minutes to see a health care professional, double the state and national average.

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Texas Health Resources, the parent company of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, said the findings had nothing to do with Duncan's situation and did not represent a staffing problem in the ER. "It's a very busy place," spokesman Wendell Watson told the Dallas Morning News, which first reported the data.

Like many other hospitals, Texas Health has also had to forfeit some funding for the last three years because of patients who were discharged and then had to return. Federal data shows that the penalty rate decreased from .48 percent to .10 percent over the last three years, however, and the hospital was in the middle of the pack for Texas hospitals for the most recent fiscal year.

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