Arizona Clears Abortion Clinic Citations
An Arizona Health Services Department citation issued to a Planned Parenthood clinic in suburban Phoenix has been cleared after the women's health provider made several small policy changes prompted by a surprise inspection this year.
The department also withdrew other portions of the "statement of deficiencies" after the Glendale clinic provided the state with documents that weren't readily available to inspectors in February, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The dismissals show that the unannounced search, which disrupted the clinic's daily operations, didn't find major problems or result in penalties or fines. "There's not a lot there, that's certainly true," said Jodi Liggett, director of public policy at Planned Parenthood of Arizona.
Connie Belden, the health department's bureau chief for medical facility licensing, said it's common for investigations to turn up only documentation concerns.
She said state officials hope investigations find that clinics are following the rules, but they have to perform checks to make sure.
"We don't look for non-compliance, but our obligation to the public is to ensure that facilities are in compliance," Belden said Wednesday.
The Feb. 10 investigation was the first under a 2010 lawsuit settlement requiring warrants before snap inspections. It was prompted by a Planned Parenthood report that revealed a surgical complication.
Belden didn't say what in that report raised enough questions for her to conclude that rule violations were possible.
Planned Parenthood has criticized the use of the warrant, saying health inspectors could have gotten the same information during a regular, announced inspection.
They also questioned the timing because the search came just days before a legislative hearing on a bill removing the warrant requirement.
The Department of Health Services has said there was no political motivation behind the search.
The search came just as the Legislature took up a bill pushed by the anti-abortion group Center for Arizona Policy to remove the warrant requirement. House Bill 2284 passed both chambers and was signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in April.
Liggett said her group met with health department officials and provided information that led them to withdraw some of the citation and accept Planned Parenthood's changes to resolve the remainder.
"We are certainly confident in the care that we give," Liggett said. "We were literally surprised by the inspection, but we are happy to work with our regulator."
Planned Parenthood President Bryan Howard was unavailable, but said after the signing of HB 2284 that a lawsuit would likely be filed once new rules for warrantless snap inspections are finalized.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has found that unannounced inspections at abortion clinics are illegal because women's privacy rights are especially at risk. The ruling led to a settlement between the state and abortion providers in 2010 that calls for a search warrant to be obtained before an inspection.
Center for Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod has said new state regulation of abortion clinics imposed since the settlement means the appeals court ruling is no longer relevant.
The citation issued after the search faulted the clinic for not providing licensing and certification records for two nurses and a health aide and for not performing required laboratory and ultrasound tests on a patient. It also said the clinic didn't properly monitor a woman's vital signs in the recovery room.
Howard has said all staffers were appropriately licensed, all tests were performed and vital signs were properly monitored.
The accepted corrective action plan shows the clinic implemented a new electronic record-keeping system in December that will allow staff to better file ultrasound images and an updated procedure for managing and auditing post-operative care.
The health department inspected about 2,400 medical facilities last year, but only abortion clinics require advance notice or a warrant. Those that receive statements of deficiencies often go through a dispute-resolution process that can result in changes or the complete withdrawal of the citation. Such notices can result in civil penalties or even license revocations.