Ga. hospital in ‘immediate jeopardy’ after discharging man too early

Jerry was found feet away from hospital property unconscious with tubes still sticking out of his body. His loved ones say he was discharged because his insurance ran out.
Jerry was found lying on the sidewalk just feet away from hospital property.
Jerry was found lying on the sidewalk just feet away from hospital property.(Conyers Police Department)
Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 11:00 AM CDT
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This report first published April 4, 2022, won an Emmy at the most recent 2023 Southeast Emmys.

CONYERS, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Conyers Police responded to a call about an unconscious man in need of medical care. When police arrived, they found 68-year-old Jerry with tubes still attached to his body.

“Looks like he just came from the hospital but he is passed out on the ground, near the stoplight, the stoplight.” The 911 caller continued, “he’s not responding. I don’t know if he’s okay.”

Police, fire and EMS responded to the scene on Oct. 14, 2021. Just feet away from Piedmont Rockdale Hospital, police discovered Jerry had been discharged and left on the edge of the property by medical professionals.

The police department was so outraged by what happened, Deputy Chief Scott Freeman spoke out, saying “a regulatory body needs to take a look inside to see what’s going on inside this hospital.”

CBS46 Investigates team started digging to find out what happened to Jerry and uncovered a history of patients being discharged unsafely. Jerry’s case lead to a federal investigation’s findings that Piedmont Rockdale Hospital was in “immediate jeopardy,” and “failed to ensure their discharge planning was enforced and followed.”

Discharging Jerry

The New Orleans native has weathered the worst storms, from Hurricane Katrina to cancer. His loved ones say this heartbreaking incident feels nearly as traumatic.

“I just couldn’t believe it. One, that they would do it in such an inhumane way, and number two, that they didn’t call anybody,” Jerry’s roommate told CBS46.

Surveillance video shows at 10:17 a.m., Jerry was wheeled out of his Piedmont Rockdale Hospital room. Then, two medical professionals with a security guard continued to wheel him outside the edge of Piedmont’s property.

22 minutes after first being taken from his room, Conyers Police responded to the report of Jerry being found unconscious on the sidewalk. “Oh my god. This cannot be happening,” Deputy Chief Freeman recalled. “Fire rescue personnel as well as EMS personnel...their initial response was he needs to be in the emergency room.”

In fact, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) documents show earlier that day, a nurse at Piedmont Rockdale told a director that Jerry was too weak and that she ‘can’t believe he was being discharged.’”

Medical Professionals are seen in surveillance video wheeling Jerry out of his hospital room.
Medical Professionals are seen in surveillance video wheeling Jerry out of his hospital room.(Surveillance Video)

So, if he needed emergency care, why was he taken away from it? According to his roommate and beloved family friend “his Medicare and Medicaid coverage ran out. I think they can only home him for 30 days so on day 30—out the door he went.”

CBS46 investigates discovered earlier that same day, a hospital security guard called a Conyers Police officer on his cell phone. In the report obtained by CBS46 Investigates, it says ‘Jerry had been in the hospital approximately 35 days.’ Claiming, ‘he was homeless and just staying to have a place to stay.’ Adding, ‘he’d been cleared as fit by two physicians and the hospital wanted him gone.’

Jerry’s roommate says he was not homeless, that she took him to most of his medical visits throughout the years. The Conyers resident explained that he’d been at the hospital multiple times before so his emergency contact should have been available and on file.

“I shouldn’t have to sit and tell a room full of doctors and nurses you don’t discharge a person having a medical issue that needs to be hospitalized.” Deputy Chief Freeman questioned, “Why does the police need to do that?”

Ongoing Problem

Discharging patients too soon has been a concern at the location before. We uncovered records showing HHS investigated Piedmont Rockdale four times related to discharging between 2007 through 2017. Inspections were initiated due to complaints, at the time of on-site visits, reports note the facility was in compliance.

But the Conyers Deputy Chief alleges the pattern does not end there. “If you had to quantify, how many would you say,” CBS46′s Ciara Cummings asked the deputy chief. “It’s hard, it’s hard to quantify. We have two to three a week that they allow to walk out,” he responded.

Local advocate and former nurse Claire Thevenot says there are rules hospitals are required to follow. “The primary tenant of discharge is they have to be discharged to a safe environment,” Thevenot said.

Thevenot is not affiliated with this case or any others we reviewed but uses her medical expertise to educate families on their rights and the rules which hospitals are required to follow.

“In a lot of ways they think they’re doing the patient a service, too.” Thevenot explained from a hospital’s perspective, “’Oh, we don’t want to keep him here at the expense of a big hospital bill, their insurance isn’t going to reimburse them.’”

A Federal Investigation

Regardless of intent or insurance issues, hospitals must follow discharge policies to remain in compliance with The HHS Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS). In simple terms, those policies include verifying the patient is clinically well, confirming they understand their medications, treatments, and available resources, plus communicating with the patient’s caregivers or family about departure.

Policies to which HHS found Piedmont Rockdale did not adhere.

To remain in federal compliance, hospitals must follow discharge policies.
To remain in federal compliance, hospitals must follow discharge policies.(CBS46)

CBS46 began requesting HHS records related to Piedmont Rockdale’s dangerous discharge concerns starting Jan. 12. By Jan. 27, HHS identified the site as a hospital in ‘immediate jeopardy.’ Citing it, ‘failed to ensure their discharge planning was enforced and followed.’ According to the HHS report completed on Jan. 27, there were three unannounced on-site visits from late October to January, to investigate the location, as it relates to Jerry’s case.

The HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) told CBS46, the Rockdale facility has now achieved substantial compliance as of Feb. 22.

Hospital Statement

CBS46 investigates repeatedly reached out to Piedmont spokespersons for policies and a formal interview. Our requests have gone unanswered.

However, back in October, when Conyers Police initially made allegations against the hospital, Piedmont issued this statement.

CMS advises that if you feel as if a hospital discharged you or a loved one too early, file an appeal or a complaint. Filing a complaint through Medicare & Medicaid can be done here.

Additionally, filing a complaint about a safety concern against a hospital, regardless of your insurance, can be done through The Joint Commission, a national accrediting body in healthcare.

The full list of state hospital policies can be found here.

If there’s something you would like CBS46 investigates to dig into, fill out this submission form.

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