Health Care

Feds say patients no longer at risk of sex abuse at Mount Sinai. Hospital will keep Medicare

Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach will not lose its Medicare contract after regulators found that patients are no longer at risk of sexual abuse at the hospital.
Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach will not lose its Medicare contract after regulators found that patients are no longer at risk of sexual abuse at the hospital.

Patients are no longer at risk of sexual abuse at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, federal regulators said this week in approving a corrective plan filed by hospital administrators under threat of termination from Medicare, the public health insurance program for elderly and disabled persons and the financial lifeblood of hospitals.

Mount Sinai administrators had been warned by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, that the medical center risked being terminated from Medicare on July 3 after an employee accused of sexual battery on a patient had been allowed to continue working directly with patients in the mental health unit.

CMS officials said Mount Sinai achieved compliance as of July 1. A letter from CMS administrators to Mount Sinai, dated June 28, stated that a survey by Florida health regulators on June 26 found that Mount Sinai meets conditions for participation in Medicare, including adequate oversight of employees and safeguards for patient health and safety.

“As a result, the termination scheduled for July 3, 2019 is withdrawn,” said the letter signed by CMS administrators.

Mount Sinai CEO Steve Sonenreich was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday, though he noted on June 26 that hospital administrators had taken the correct steps in response to the patient’s accusations of sexual battery. Removal from Medicare is uncommon for hospitals, and most medical centers take the necessary steps to correct deficiencies before termination of the program.

The threat of termination stemmed from a patient’s accusation in November that a mental health technician had sexually assaulted her in her room. Mount Sinai administrators suspended the worker, Christian Vidal, for a day without pay but then allowed him to return to work in the same role attending to patients in the hospital’s behavioral health unit.

Vidal, 42, remained in his position for six months until Miami Beach police arrested him in May, after results from a DNA test confirmed a match between Vidal and a sample taken from the patient. At that time Vidal was fired by the hospital. The patient had been at the hospital under Florida’s Baker Act, a state law that allows people deemed a danger to themselves or others to be held against their will for up to 72 hours in a mental health facility.

Christian Vidal mug_fitted.jpeg
Christian Vidal, 42, of Miami was arrested and charged with sexual battery on May 22, 2019. Miami-Dade Corrections

Vidal, currently out on bond, is awaiting a hearing on his case later in July.

An unannounced inspection of Mount Sinai in June by state health regulators found what they called “an immediate jeopardy” to patient safety, citing hospital administrators’ failures to report the incident to Florida’s Department of Children & Families, or DCF, the state’s mental health authority. Hospital administrators had not presented the incident to the hospital’s board of trustees for review, either, state inspectors reported.

In response, Mount Sinai administrators filed a plan with CMS stating that the hospital’s board will provide oversight and accountability to ensure patient safety and set clear expectations for employees, including a change in policies for reporting abuse, neglect and abandonment of patients to the appropriate bodies, such as DCF, and removal of any hospital employee accused of misconduct from all patient contact until an investigation is completed.

The policy change is a direct response to the hospital’s handling of Vidal, who had been allowed to continue working in Mount Sinai’s psychiatric intake area following the accusation of sexual battery.

Mount Sinai also vowed to expand its sexual assault protocol by adding a section on how to care for a patient after an alleged sexual assault, including assigning a one-on-one patient safety technician to the patient making the accusation. In addition, the accused employee will be immediately removed from the area and will not be allowed to return to work until cleared by the hospital’s human resources department.

The hospital’s plan also notes changes that will emphasize the need for workers to intervene when they witness actions that do not follow policy, and the creation of a log to ensure daily reporting of incidents to hospital executives and state agencies and notification of police when patient sexual abuse is suspected.

Sexual violence is a social and public health problem in the U.S. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey says nearly 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape at some point in their lives.

Daniel Chang covers health care for the Miami Herald, where he works to untangle the often irrational world of health insurance, hospitals and health policy for readers.
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