Philadelphia hospital CEO adjusts on-site schedule after serious safety lapses

The CEO of St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia must now be on-site five days a week after inspectors identified safety lapses, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Donald Mueller became CEO of St. Christopher's in July 2020. Before that, he served as CEO of Children's Hospital at Erlanger in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The change in Mr. Mueller's work arrangements follows a survey of the hospital conducted in January 2023 by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. State officials provided CMS with a report of deficiencies it identified at the survey. 

According to the Inquirer, the survey followed an alleged child abduction and found a lack of safety and leadership that jeopardized patient safety.

CMS documents shared with Becker's shows investigators found that the facility failed to initiate a "Code Pink" after the alleged child abduction. The Inquirer reported that a parent allegedly took their 2-month-old child home without being discharged. A "Code Pink," which alerts staff to a possible child abduction, would have led to the doors being locked, preventing the parent from leaving with the child. Investigators also found staff were not trained on "Code Pink" protocols annually as required. 

Additionally, inspectors noted the hospital had left the position of director of emergency management vacant since 2021 and that the CEO failed to ensure patient safety and that staff were properly trained, according to the Inquirer.

CMS determined that conditions within St. Christopher's "posed an immediate jeopardy to the health and safety of patients," according to a letter the agency sent to the hospital. That immediate jeopardy designation has since been lifted.

West Reading, Pa.-based Tower Health and Philadelphia-based Drexel University in partnership own and operate St. Christopher's.

Mr. Mueller is now on-site five days each week during business hours unless on company business or paid time off, per the hospital's plan of correction established after the January inspection. When he is not on-site, another executive is on-site. The correction plan also includes training for all staff on "Code Pink" and other safety and security protocols.

According to the hospital's plan of correction, a new director of emergency management was hired in February. On July 20, CMS conducted another survey and found the hospital in compliance. It is no longer at risk of being terminated from the Medicare program, and its Joint Commission accreditations have been restored, according to documents CMS shared with Becker's

Tower Health shared the following statement with Becker's: "St. Christopher's Hospital for Children's top priority is always the safety of its patients, their families and its employees. Immediately following the investigation conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the hospital developed an action plan that was accepted and implemented. As part of that plan, we completed mandatory in-depth training for all 1,800 employees, incorporating both in-person drills and online education for every staff member. 

"St. Christopher's continues to excel in providing safe, high-quality care for children in Philadelphia's most underserved community. The hospital has received reaccreditation for its Level 1 Trauma Center, its kidney transplant program, its dialysis center and its cystic fibrosis Center, and has received national awards for its extracorporeal membrane oxygenation program (a form of advanced life support used for infants and children with life-threatening heart and/or lung problems). St. Christopher's is also a Magnet designated hospital, the highest standard for nursing practice and innovation."

A spokesperson for the hospital declined to answer questions from Becker's regarding whether Mr. Mueller moved to Philadelphia permanently or how often he was previously at the hospital in-person.

His LinkedIn profile lists a hybrid working status and Philadelphia as his location.

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