BMC loses bid to reinstate general surgery residency program
PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire Medical Center has lost a bid to reinstate a surgery residency program, which was deauthorized last November due to administrative concerns.
The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, based in Chicago, has denied BMC's appeal and upheld a ruling it issued late last year to withdraw accreditation to the program, hospital officials confirmed.
Diane Kelly, BMC's chief operating officer, said she was "disappointed" that the appeal was denied but added, "we respect the process."
BMC has corrected the flawed documentation procedures that led to the loss of accreditation, Kelly said, and officials plan to submit a new application next month. If re-accredited, the program could resume by next July.
Through spokeswoman Emily Vasiliou, ACGME declined to comment on why the agency denied BMC's appeal, noting that information about the agency's decisions are confidential.
Established in 1962, the program provided five years of clinical training for college graduates seeking a career in general surgery, and to those interested in further subspecialty training. It was accredited through the ACGME, a private professional organization that is responsible for the accreditation of 9,200 residency education programs nationwide.
The ACGME withdrew the program's accreditation last November in the wake of an April 2013 site visit, during which it found fault with three "programmatic procedures" that involved inadequately prepared documentation, BMC officials said.
Hospital officials have said those procedural violations had nothing to do with the clinical quality of care that was provided by the residents.
The loss of accreditation also does not affect any surgical procedures at BMC that are performed by staff physicians, Kelly said. BMC has hired four full-time physician assistants to replace this year's loss of the student residents.
The hospital's surgery residency is a two-pronged program: The ACGME certifies the program that involves general surgery techniques; the American Osteopathic Association certifies the program for those solely seeking training in osteopathy.
The osteopathy program, and its three residents, are unaffected by the ACGME action, said Dr. Mark Pettus, BMC's director of education.
Of the 14 students enrolled in the general surgery program this year, three graduated, while BMC was able to place the 11 others in programs at other hospitals.
"We made that a priority," Kelly said.
BMC also operates residency programs in internal medicine, psychiatry and dentistry. BMC's internal medicine and psychiatry programs are also accredited by the ACGME.
"None of our other programs are in jeopardy as a consequence of what happened," Pettus said.
Program director Dr. Parvis Sadighi, who represented BMC with Pettus at the appeals hearing in Chicago on March 24, said the ACGME did rescind three matters that the accrediting agency found had been interpreted incorrectly during the inspection.
And while Kelly said all of the problems have since been addressed, the appeal still was denied because the ACGME does not take into account corrections that have been made following an initial site visit.
"The appeals process is to show that they may have not seen it correctly," Kelly said. "What you've done between the time they had your survey and the day of the appeal is irrelevant to them. They only care about what it is in front of the surveyor on the day of the survey.
"So if you've made improvements, what you do now is you decide to go on and reopen the program," Kelly said. "And we're in the process of filling out that paperwork to have it reopened."
BMC plans to apply for the program's re-accreditation in August, and hopes to have all of its documentation ready for presentation when the accrediting agency meets in November. If successful, BMC officials hope the program can be re-accredited by July 1, 2015.
If re-accredited, the program will be headed by Sadighi, who replaced Dr. Timothy Counihan, the program's former director who resigned on Feb. 1.
Sadighi, who graduated from BMC's general surgery program in 1969, headed the program for 25 years before he was replaced by Counihan in 2007. Counihan is still on staff at BMC as a colorectal surgeon, BMC spokesman Michael Leary has said.
Pettus recently became BMC's director of education, which oversees all of the hospital's residency programs.
Pettus and Kelly said the hospital views the situation as a learning experience.
"I can tell you that under my watch this will never happen again," Pettus said.
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