Mandeville Psychiatric Hospital cited for third time; tech caught napping, understaffed units

For the third time in a year, federal regulators have warned Northlake Behavioral Health System, a psychiatric hospital in Mandeville, that it has put the lives of its patients in immediate danger after a February inspection revealed that hospital staff did not monitored high-risk patients.

Northlaker was issued an imminent danger citation, the most serious charge issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, last March for not having enough CPR-trained staff at the hospital. In January, the hospital was cited again for failing to monitor its high-risk patients, some of whom struggle with mental health conditions that can lead them to become aggressive or violent. This prompted the Louisiana Department of Health to notify the hospital that it was at risk of losing its ability to collect Medicaid and Medicare payments.

On Friday, LDH spokesman Kevin Litten said the state has entered into a settlement agreement with Northlake that requires the fix but allows the hospital to keep its license. The settlement, which the agency did not immediately provide, is intended to ensure the operator stays in compliance with state and federal regulations to keep patients safe.

Northlake is run by Ness Healthcare, an Illinois-based nonprofit that also operates an outpatient mental health clinic, called The Ness Center, next to Northlake.

Hospital CEO Joe Buckley said that when the latest issues were identified, our team corrected them immediately. He provided a copy of a letter from the LDH, stating that the hospital was in substantial compliance with federal standards.

Psychiatric hospitals can be difficult to operate, and receiving an immediate danger charge is not uncommon, according to Richard Kramer, a former CEO of Northlake under previous ownership who is now the director of the Parish Human Services Authority in Florida, a state behavior entity. healthcare organization that serves a region of five parishes.

But getting three could be charting new territory, Kramer said. We all need to see that there is a plan to change course if things continue.

Sen. Patrick McMath, R-Covington, who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, also acknowledged the difficulty of running a hospital like Northlake and emphasized that St. Tammany stepped up to provide crucial services after the former Louisiana State Hospital of Southeast. at the Northlake site, which closed in 2012.

State Senator Patrick McMath

But, he noted, repeatedly failing to ensure the safety and well-being of patients and employees is unacceptable.

I hold Mr. Shir of that, the senator said in a statement, referring to Ness Healthcare President Tony Shir.

Sleeping at work

As part of the February inspection, regulators reviewed video footage from Northlakes security cameras taken on Jan. 28. A mental health technician who was supposed to be closely monitoring high-risk patients went to a supply closet to get a pillow, leaned on it. a chair and took a 15 minute nap. He then left the hospital unit for over an hour.

Meanwhile, the eight patients in the unit remained under the care of another hospital worker, who could not maintain doctor-ordered levels of supervision on all eight at the same time.

The inspection also revealed that a registered nurse signed forms stating that they had made rounds to observe patients, but were not doing so. Regulators also found that hospital units were not adequately staffed. And during the night shift on Feb. 27, inspectors found that hospital workers had again failed to maintain physician-ordered levels of patient supervision.


A sign directs patients and their visitors to register at Northlake Behavioral Health Center in Mandeville.

The Times-Picayune has previously reported on several cases in which regulators found the hospital did not meet federal standards.

In April 2022, Northlake lost its hospital accreditation through the Joint Commission, a third-party nonprofit organization that certifies that hospitals meet federal standards. Accreditation allows a hospital to collect Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements. Since then, the LDH has conducted a dozen inspections at Northlake, which revealed the hospital has repeatedly failed to monitor patients.

Critical mental health beds

Earlier this month, lawmakers representing the North Shore received a letter from LDH alerting them that the hospital was at risk of extinction, while stressing that Northlake is a critical component of the care system of the behavioral health of Louisiana inpatients.

As noted in the letter, the hospital has a contract with LDH to operate 62 beds that are crucial to the states’ safety net program for patients who are often involuntarily committed to psychiatric care and they may not be insured.

Northlake operates the most of those beds — there are only 94 statewide.

But the hospital is in breach of its contract, LDH told lawmakers, because it lacks hospital accreditation.

The contract can also be terminated if Northlake receives two or more immediate jeopardy penalties in a 12-month period. The hospital has already received three.

Alan Levine, a former LDH secretary who is now the CEO of Ballad Health, an Appalachian hospital network, said regulators might still balk at ending the hospital, given how crucial the beds are. offers

But if problems persist, Levine said, they may be left with no other options.

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