Federal regulators raised concerns about untreated medical conditions and “severe clinical and operational deficiencies” in an October letter regarding the Via Christi HOPE program for seniors.
The letter ordered Via Christi Healthcare Outreach for Elders to stop enrollment in the program, which provides medical and social services to Sedgwick County seniors and allows most participants to remain at home or with family rather than in a nursing home.
A spokesman for Via Christi said in an emailed statement that it is “working to address the findings identified by the CMS.” Johnny Smith, Jr., senior director of public relations at Ascension, did not respond to requests for further comment. Via Christi was purchased by the St. Louis-based Ascension Health in 2013. Via Christi HOPE was started in 2002.
In one instance, Via Christi did not make a dentist appointment for a participant with broken teeth, according to the letter from CMS, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Two months after it was determined that he needed a dental appointment, the man was hospitalized because of a tooth abscess, the letter continued. The tooth infection became septic and caused respiratory failure, eventually requiring the man to breathe through a ventilator, the letter said.
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In another instance, Via Christi nurses told a participant her foot was not broken. Although the woman called complaining of severe foot pain over the next two weeks, she was continually told the foot injury would heal, according to the letter. Her foot was later amputated, the letter said.
During an August audit, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services found Via Christi had not scheduled services in a timely manner and had inadequately managed participants’ medical conditions.
Health aides failed to visit participants’ homes when scheduled and often would not perform chores or meal preparation that had been specified in plans of care, according to the letter from CMS. Immediate access was not provided to emergency care and wheelchair ramps and walkers were not always provided to participants who were fall risks, the letter also said.
A triage nurse at Via Christi HOPE from July 2016 until July 2017, Mique Schlyer, said the circumstances were appalling, with untreated head injuries, dehydration and more.
When the woman came in with the foot injury, Schlyer said, she urged for it to be evaluated.
“All of my concerns continued to fall on deaf ears,” Schyler said.
Schyler was fired in July 2017, after she said she voiced concerns about treatment of HOPE participants. After she was fired, she contacted the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as well as the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. She thinks her contact with them launched the audit and eventually the program suspension.
“I think it’s the best thing that could possibly happen for the participants that are there,” Schyler said. “Hopefully some way their services will get picked up by somebody else.”
The Via Christi HOPE pages on Via Christi’s website were no longer accessible Thursday afternoon. Via Christi has also been ordered to stop marketing for the program.