Over 100 psychiatric hospitals with safety violations still accredited by Joint Commission, WSJ finds

More than 100 psychiatric hospitals are still fully accredited by the Joint Commission, despite significant safety violations, including care lapses associated with patient deaths and abuse, a database investigation by The Wall Street Journal found.

The nonprofit accrediting organization revoked or denied full accreditation to less than 1 percent of psychiatric hospitals it reviewed in fiscal year 2014 and 2015, according to the most recent federal data available.

About 16 percent of those hospitals each year (about 140 institutions) operated with such severe safety violations that they jeopardized their federal funding, state inspectors found.

But troubled hospitals use their continued accreditation to attract new patients, even after some facilities lost Medicare funding due to ongoing safety incidents.

The Joint Commission is the only accrediting organization with a federally approved psychiatric-hospital accreditation program for Medicare.

The WSJ previously reported that the Joint Commission continued to accredit a variety of hospitals despite safety violations. Patients and staff at inpatient psychiatric hospitals are especially vulnerable since many of the patients are suicidal and treated without family members to serve as their advocates.

Joint Commission officials said their surveys of hospitals should not be considered regulatory inspections and said they collaborate with psychiatric hospitals to help them improve.

Most hospitals come into compliance once deficiencies are pointed out, Joint Commission officials told WSJ. "The goal of the private accreditation system is to identify deficiencies in care and have the hospitals correct those deficiencies — it is not to find as many deficiencies as possible to justify removing accreditation from those organizations," they said.

However, about three-fourths of the psychiatric hospitals found with violations in 2014 or 2016 went on to have later violations, according to an analysis of the federal data.

CMS officials, who oversee the Joint Commission and give it authority to inspect hospitals, have been concerned for years about the accreditation of psychiatric hospitals.

The federal agency cited "serious issues" regarding the commission's performance in December 2015 and later put its psychiatric-accreditation program under probation, which ended in December 2016.

But CMS ultimately supported the program, saying it would closely monitor the commission's work.

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