Although a Hartford health center has been making improvements since the state Department of Public Health started monitoring it last year, changes have been a long time coming.
Charter Oak Health Center was placed on probation as part of a consent order after state officials learned a tuberculosis outbreak at the facility went unreported for more than a month in 2012. The order required the facility to adopt better infection control procedures, as well as hire several new administrators.
COHC is a federally-qualified health center, which means it provides services regardless of ability to pay, and charges for services on a sliding scale based on income. While a nonprofit organization, being a federally-qualified health center means that Charter Oak receives significant federal funding. The center has 11 satellite locations in Hartford.
Monthly reports filed by the facility’s temporary manager with DPH regarding the health center reveal that changes, such as new hires and implementing a new telephone system, took months to accomplish.
Peter Velez, interim president and CEO of the health center, is the appointed temporary manager. Velez formerly served as the president and CEO of a community health center in New Jersey. Currently, he is also a director at Southwind, a physician practice-management firm based out of Nashville, according to his LinkedIn profile.
The first four reports from Velez detail improvements to COHC’s “call center,” new energy-efficient garage lighting and re-negotiated provider contracts.
In the February 2013 report, Velez said management was “carefully assessing the value” of its $5,000-per-month relationship with lobbying group Camilliere, Cloud & Kennedy.
The first four reports, which span June to October 2012, spend little time on implementation of disease- and infection-control programs and training, two of DPH’s mandates.
Updates on these key plans rarely appear in reports until December 2012 and January 2013.
“Charter Oak has accomplished many things in the last year,” said COHC spokeswoman Jo-Anne Leventhal. She said the center has reached “a very high level of performance, focused on its growing number of patients and their needs.”
Reports show that although COHC was mandated to hire permanent administrators after DPH placed the organization on the two-year probation, it took more than a year for the organization to permanently fill the chief medical officer position.
Health center officials also noted several times that there was a shortage of or “disproportionate” amount of appropriate staff at some locations, which led to the center being “unable to fulfill the needs of the community.”
During the probation period, Charter Oak received a $3,500 “mini grant” for “brochure development” from the Community Health Network of Connecticut.
Charter Oak and a group of federally-qualified Connecticut health centers founded the Community Health Network to act as a health plan for people on Medicaid. Charter Oak’s former CEO, Alfreda Turner, who was fired in 2012 in the wake of the tuberculosis outbreak, served as the health network’s chairwoman.
Charter Oak’s negative publicity increased when Dr. Tory Westbrook was arrested on sexual assault charges in June 2012, just as it began initiating the changes required by DPH. The health center quietly terminated Westbrook in September.
Westbrook was hired as interim medical director and later appointed director of internal medicine as part of the center’s initiative to improve.
All reports are addressed to DPH’s Donna Ortelle, supervising nursing consultant of the facilities licensing and investigations section. The nine reports span a full year, between June 2012 and May 2013.
Jordan Otero is a summer 2013 Yankee Institute journalism intern. She is a senior studying journalism at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She lives in Southington.