Charlotte abortion clinic allowed to reopen

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by CAMERON STEELE & CLEVE R. WOOTSON JR. / Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on May 14, 2013 at 10:56 AM

Updated Tuesday, May 14 at 9:55 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For the second time in six years, a southeast Charlotte abortion clinic has reopened a short time after the state forced it to shut down because of safety issues, most recently the improper administration of a drug that terminates pregnancies.

A Preferred Woman’s Health Center on Latrobe Drive will be allowed to open at 9 a.m. Wednesday after the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services lifted its order suspending clinic services, according to an official with the state agency who provided information on background.

The clinic’s reopening comes only four days after it was ordered to suspend operations. In April state investigators determined that clinic staffers were orally administering the drug methotrexate, which is used to induce abortions. The drug is meant to be injected, according to the state report.

But Tuesday, the state Department of Health and Human Services received “documentation that the inappropriate administration of medication would be discontinued,” according to the department official.

The clinic also submitted a quality improvement plan to the state, the official said.

The state department has temporarily shut down the Charlotte clinic – only to have it reopen shortly thereafter – in the past, according to the official and a state document. In February 2007, state investigators found as many as 16 safety and regulatory issues at the clinic, according to a letter DHHS sent the clinic.

Attempts to reach clinic owner Lois Turner were unsuccessful Tuesday.

A Preferred Woman’s Health Center is one of three clinics that provide abortions in Charlotte, according to the National Abortion Federation, a professional association representing abortion providers. Planned Parenthood, which refers women to local abortion providers, does not refer patients to A Preferred Woman’s Health Center, spokeswoman Melissa Reed said.

“We are not affiliated with that clinic at all and did not make referrals to it at all,” said Reed, who works out of the group’s Raleigh office. “Planned Parenthood puts patient safety and women’s health care as our primary concern.”

Drug administered incorrectly

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services began investigating the center in late April because of a complaint. An injectable version of methotrexate was administered orally, the investigation found, which is dangerous to patients.

In one case, a 19-year-old woman came to the clinic for an abortion procedure and was given methotrexate orally. A month later, she returned to the clinic, still pregnant, and had to undergo a “surgical abortion procedure,” according to state documents.

A 33-year-old woman also received the drug orally, according to state documents. It’s unclear what happened in her case.

“Based on the investigative findings, an imminent threat to the health and safety of patients was identified,” according to a summary of findings by DHHS.

According to a nurse interviewed by state investigators, the medication was drawn up in a syringe and then put into a cup for patients to drink.

The center’s website made no mention of its closing. The clinic is part of a chain of clinics in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee, but it’s unclear whether facilities in other states were affected.

DHHS officials declined to give the Observer a copy of the 88-page report following the state’s 2007 investigation of the clinic, saying they would first need time to redact the material.

But a DHHS letter, dated Feb. 14, 2007, lists numerous safety issues at the clinic, including that employees had inappropriately administered another drug, Rhogam, performed a surgical abortion without a registered nurse on the premises, failed to adequately monitor patients after abortions and failed to appropriately clean and sterilize instruments after surgery.

In one case, the letter shows, a clinic employee gave medicine to a patient that forced the doctor to perform an abortion – even though the employee was not licensed to administer medicine and the patient was considered to not be an “appropriate candidate for the procedure.”

As a result, the patient had to be transferred to a local hospital for further treatment.

The clinic was also cited by DHHS in December for allowing three workers to perform ultrasounds without proper training, storing nitrous oxide in unsecured cabinets and keeping expired medications in an emergency kit.

DHHS could not provide specific details about the improvement plans the clinic provided to get its license back Tuesday and in the 2007 incident.

Clinic inspections

The state also could not provide details about how often it receives such complaints – about the Charlotte clinic specifically and in general as the agency that oversees all such clinics in the state.

Typically, the state inspects abortion clinics every two years.

DHHS doesn’t commonly suspend the licenses of North Carolina abortion clinics, the department official told the Observer. The last time a clinic was suspended was in 2007.

Last year, a doctor who worked for A Preferred Woman’s Clinic made headlines when a conservative anti-abortion group accused him of racism. A video of Dr. Ashutosh “Ron” Virmani, a Charlotte obstetrician-gynecologist, was posted online by Concord-based Operation Save America.

In the video, Virmani, in a confrontation with protesters, challenges them to “adopt one of those ugly black babies” and get them “off the taxpayers’ money.”

It’s not clear whether the video shows the full exchange between Virmani and the protesters.

The clinic’s recent suspension comes in the same week an abortion doctor in Philadelphia was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder after babies were allegedly born alive during abortion procedures. Kermit Gosnell, 72, was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Back in Charlotte, the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte spoke out against the practices of A Preferred Woman’s Clinic as state officials were in the process of lifting its suspension.

“It’s just shocking,” diocese spokesman David Hains said. “I think people who are pro-choice can agree with people who are pro-life like me that what’s going on over there certainly is not safe.”

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