Just a few days after Republican North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed SB 353, which will allow the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to choose which licensing requirements for the state’s ambulatory surgical centers (ASC) should be applied to abortion clinics, the department has released news that Femcare, an Asheville-based abortion provider, has had its license suspended. The clinic is the only abortion provider in the state that is already equipped to stay in operation regardless of which licensing standards the DHHS chooses to have clinics adhere to.
“Inspectors from [the DHHS'] Division of Health Service Regulation (DHSR) found the facility failed to comply with 23 separate rules,” said DHSR Director Drexdal Pratt in a statement. “We take rule violations very seriously and, when necessary, take firm action to prevent harm to patients and clients in the facilities that we license regulate and inspect.”
The department report states that the inspection occurred on July 18 and 19; during the same time period, SB 353 remained stalled in senate committee. Femcare staff were informed of the on-site deficiencies after the inspection completed on July 19, according to the report.
Included in the 23 violations were cites for “nitrous oxide masks held together by tape, dust on a crash cart, failure to check that a defibrillator was functioning, failure to mop the operating room floor after each procedure and multiple violations of policy requirements for personnel records, training records and standing agreements with other providers,” according to WRAL.com. The news outlet reports that the clinic’s license was officially suspended on July 31 after a follow-up phone call between the clinic and DHHS.
State Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe) said the inspection was politically motivated, telling ABC News 13, “On a scale of one to ten, it’s definitely a ten, because we knew and they knew that Femcare was one of the few, if not the only, facility that would be available to women who need this kind of care. And now their license has been pulled.”
The clinic does not expect the closure to be permanent, however. Dr. Lorraine Cummings, Femcare’s owner and operator, said in a statement that the clinic is aware of the deficiencies cited by DHHS and is already addressing them. “Since the state’s last site visit in August 2006 there have been no changes in our operating protocols, but increasing regulations require us to make changes,” Cummings said. “Standards that were acceptable when we were last inspected have changed and, as soon as we were notified of them two weeks ago, we began the process of meeting each one of them. We have had no patient infections using our former protocols. We expect to be in compliance soon with the required standards and will return to serving our patients as soon as possible.”
Reproductive rights groups point to the license suspension as yet another sign that the current system of clinic regulations in place is already effective, making SB 353 unneeded. “At NARAL Pro-Choice NC, we believe everyone should have access to safe, quality reproductive health care,” said the group’s executive director, Suzanne Buckley, in a statement. “The DHHS citations reinforce our position that the current regulations are working and SB 353 is unnecessary, politically motivated. Some have suggested that timing of the citations is suspicious and politically motivated. It certainly deserves further inquiry. Our efforts will continue to be focused on advancing and protecting access to reproductive healthcare for all North Carolinians.”
“I think this is continued evidence that the regulations we already have in place are working,” Melissa Reed, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Health Systems, told the Asheville Citizen Times. “It is absolutely critical that every single clinic meet current regulations, and that any violations are met in a direct and speedy manner.”
Two other abortion providers in the state have had their licenses suspended within the last few months. A Preferred Woman’s Health Center in Charlotte was closed for a short period amid allegations of a misused medication abortion drug; it reopened in May. The Baker Clinic for Women in Durham had its license suspended in July for failure to properly perform Rh(d) testing and has so far not reopened.