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Abortion clinic search found patient care issues

Planned Parenthood of Arizona is disputing state health investigators’ allegations that several record-keeping and patient-care shortcomings were found during a February search of its Glendale abortion clinic.

The clinic didn’t provide required licensing and certification records for two nurses and a health aide and did not perform required laboratory and ultrasound tests on a patient, according to a Department of Health Services statement of deficiencies record obtained by The Associated Press under a public records request. The clinic also didn’t properly monitor the woman’s vital signs in the recovery room.

But Planned Parenthood President Bryan Howard said clinic staff had all the required licenses and certifications, and they have now been provided to the Arizona Health Services Department. Howard also said in an interview Friday that the clinic properly monitored the patient and had the proper tests performed.

Howard wants all the allegations withdrawn.

Snap inspections of abortion clinics in Arizona are only allowed with a search warrant, but a bill awaiting action in the Arizona Senate would remove that requirement. Planned Parenthood has questioned the timing of the warrant served on Feb. 10, the only one ever sought by the health department, because it came just days before House Bill 2284 had its first committee hearing.

Health Services denies that there is any link between the legislation and the search, which was prompted by a report on an abortion complication Planned Parenthood itself submitted in April 2013.

Spokeswoman Laura Oxley said last month the agency originally planned to obtain a warrant in November, but it was delayed, in part to ensure that a team of inspectors was available to do the search. Oxley said the initial report was considered a low priority but worthy of eventual follow-up. The request for a warrant, however, said “it was imperative” that the agency be given unannounced and immediate access to Planned Parenthood’s Glendale clinic for a search.

During the search, Health Services staff hauled off records of policies, compliance audits and a corrective action plan dated May 8, 2013. It also obtained records of two patients.

Howard said the staff records the health department cited as lacking would have been provided if inspectors had requested them. Instead, he said inspectors with a warrant seized “reams and reams” of documents.

“If we had known with any reasonable level of specificity what they were looking for, we would have been able to provide that documentation on the day they were there,” Howard said.

Howard also said staff properly monitored the patient in the recovery room, checking her vital signs every 15 minutes until she was stable, then less frequently as more time passed. He said the monitoring “deficiencies” were not based on state regulations, but on investigators’ improper reading of the clinic’s own policies.

He also said the health department’s finding that the clinic didn’t do required ultrasounds or laboratory tests was incorrect.

“We took labs and ultrasound images multiple times during the course of the care of our patient, far beyond what is required by law.” Howard said. “And the labs and ultrasound that are regulated are the ones required before the procedure, which are documented and in the chart.”

Planned Parenthood asked for a dispute-resolution meeting with Health Services officials, including Director Will Humble, in a letter dated April 2. That meeting has not yet been set.

Providers that receive notices of deficiencies often go through the dispute-resolution process, said Connie Belden, the department’s bureau chief for medical facilities licensing. The bureau inspected about 2,400 sites last year and many end up with items that need to be addressed.

The original statement of deficiencies is not final until all disputes and appeals are complete, and it could be changed or withdrawn completely. Such notices can result in civil penalties or even license revocations.

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