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Charlotte abortion facility cited for health violations

020413-latrobe-ambulanceDirty surgical instruments, ultrasounds by unqualified staff

CHARLOTTE — Dead insects, blood splatters and dirty surgical instruments were seen by state health regulators who have cited A Preferred Women’s Health Center in Charlotte for multiple health code violations.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services conducted a surprise inspection of A Preferred Women’s Health Center at 3220 Latrobe Drive on Dec. 11, 2012, after a local pro-life advocate filed a complaint about conditions at the abortion facility following a medical emergency there last October.

Pictured: A Preferred Women's Health Center has been cited by state health inspectors for several violations. This Oct. 1, 2012, photo is of an ambulance taking a woman to the hospital following complications from an abortion. The incident prompted a surprise state inspection of the Charlotte abortion facility. (Picture provided by the Charlotte Coalition for Life)

Health inspectors found the abortion facility had committed the following violations:

– Failure to maintain a clean and sanitary environment

– Failure to ensure staff were trained and competent to use ultrasound equipment

– Failure to remove expired drugs and secure medication properly

– Failure to accompany clients via ambulance to a hospital during medical emergencies

Read the full report here: pdfapwhc-charlottestform.pdf

A Preferred Women's Health Center has responded to all of the problems that state inspectors found and have submitted a written plan of correction that is included in the state's inspection report.

It was an eyewitness account of an ambulance visit to the facility that prompted pro-life advocates to ask state health department officials to investigate.

On Oct. 1, 2012, three members of St. Thomas Aquinas Church's pro-life ministry saw an ambulance arrive at the facility and take a woman on a stretcher to the hospital. They were praying there as part of the fall 40 Days for Life prayer vigil campaign. The ambulance arrived and left with no sirens on, according to a report at the time by the Charlotte Coalition for Life.

Local pro-lifers attempted to obtain 911 records through Freedom of Information Act requests, but they were unsuccessful. HeatherLee Finn, a Charlotte area pro-life activist who participates in the 40 Days for Life campaign and works with Operation Save America (also known as Operation Rescue), filed a complaint with the state health department, prompting the surprise inspection.

On Dec. 12, 2012, the Acute Care section of the state health department completed a 21-page statement detailing deficiencies at the abortion facility and describing the staff's written plans to correct the problems. A health department spokesman said that the plan for correction, which was updated as recently as Jan. 31, has been accepted by the abortion facility.

Deficiencies included poor record keeping and unlocked medicine cabinets containing nitrous oxide gas (used to partially sedate women during surgical abortions) and birth control pills, in violation of state law.

But the most serious deficiencies occurred in the care of clients.

Three staff members at the facility – one who had worked there since 2005 – admitted performing ultrasounds on clients without having had the necessary training. Performing ultrasounds was not part of their job description as "patient care advocates," yet one staff member said they had been doing ultrasounds "for about a year" after having followed the physician for "a while," the report stated.

"Based on personnel file review, staff and administrative staff interviews, the agency failed to ensure competency in performing ultrasonography services" for all three staff who admitted performing ultrasounds, the report stated.

State medical rules require abortion providers to perform ultrasounds before an abortion to ascertain the gestational age of the baby. The gestational age can determine which abortion method is used, as well as how much a woman is charged for the abortion. The ultrasound exam is also critical to a client's care, as it is used to rule out life-threatening complications such as an ectopic pregnancy.

In addition, the report mentioned two cases of women experiencing complications after their abortions and then having to be taken to the hospital – including the October medical emergency that triggered the complaint to state officials.

In the Oct. 1 incident, a 38-year-old woman who had gone to A Preferred Women's Health Center to abort her 12-week-old baby developed unspecified complications. In a similar violation on Aug. 21, 2012, a 33-year-old woman who aborted her 16-week-old baby also developed complications. Both women were transported to the hospital without being accompanied by a nurse or doctor as required, the report stated.

The state report quoted the facility's nurse as saying, “I cannot leave, I am the only nurse here.”

Staff at the abortion facility told state health inspectors that they would revise their procedure manual to require a member of the medical staff to accompany a client to the hospital.

Even more gruesome was the state report’s description of two examination rooms. In one room where procedures were scheduled, dead insects were found. Blood was splattered on an exam light, chair and door jam. In another room, a thick coat of dust was found on the examination table. An ultrasound machine was described as dirty. Vaginal speculums were found kept in a dirty plastic bin, unsterilized.

The abortion facility's response to these deficiencies was a promise to increase training and to revise some of its reporting procedures to ensure that state health regulations are followed.

The health department also noted that it was unable to substantiate two other complaints: that the facility did not have qualified physicians and that it failed to ensure clients met discharge criteria.

The state health department noted in a Jan. 2 letter to Finn, which summarized their investigation of her complaint: “Although your allegations may not have been substantiated, it does not mean that they may not have had some validity. It means we were unable to verify them based on the information available to us."

“These violations are troubling to say the least,” said Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy advisor for Operation Save America.

Sullenger told, "Untrained staff members that don’t know how to use the equipment are subjecting women to below-standard services at a dirty abortion clinic, and when things go wrong, these incompetent people cannot be counted on to follow their own policies regarding getting women emergency help in a timely manner. As for the drug violations, this speaks volumes about sloppy practices and reckless disregard for the lives and health of women that is inflicted upon ladies at this clinic on a routine basis."

A Preferred Women’s Health Center is a chain of three abortion facilities, with locations also in Raleigh and in Augusta, Ga. Its website estimates that its staff has performed abortions on more than 100,000 women over the past 20 years.

An abortionist at A Preferred Women's Health Center in Charlotte, Dr. Ashutosh Ron Virmani, OB/GYN, has received several reprimands during his medical career in North Carolina, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte suspended his privileges there in 1995. Virmanttill has a license to practice medicine in North Carolina.

There are three abortion facilities in Charlotte, among at least seven located within the area of the Diocese of Charlotte. Besides the facility at 3220 Latrobe Drive, there is Family Reproductive Health at 700 E. Hebron St. and Carolina Center for Women at 421 N. Wendover Road.

The October 2012 incident was not the only instance of pro-life vigil participants witnessing an ambulance carrying off a client from a Charlotte area abortion facility.

Earlier in 2012, pro-lifers participating in the spring 40 Days for Life campaign outside Family Reproductive Health also saw an ambulance take a woman to the hospital, wheeling her out of the back door of the abortion clinic curled up in a fetal position on a stretcher.

— Catholic News Herald staff. Steven Ertelt of contributed.