• Records: Georgia's abortion clinics face numerous inspection violations

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    ATLANTA - Unsterilized instruments, dirty linens and expired medications are just a few of the violations found at Georgia abortion clinics. 
     
    Channel 2 Action News filed an open records request for inspection reports on all clinics over the past five years. The records showed clinics in Georgia are not inspected every year.
     
    After the release of some gruesome videos this summer, Gov. Nathan Deal ordered a review of all five clinics in July. Inspectors were only looking for possible storage of fetal tissue. None was found.
     
    But Channel 2's Lori Geary wanted to know what has been found in recent inspection reports, and how often the facilities are inspected.
     
    Both sides of the abortion debate agree it isn't about where a person stands on the issue, it's about the safety of women who go to one of Georgia's five licensed abortion clinics.
     
    "Whether you're pro-choice or pro-life, you want women taken care of," said Virginia Galloway of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
     
    "I want women to be able to go to places that are safe for them and they're providing good quality care," added Staci Fox of Planned Parenthood Southeast.
     
    Geary got the inspection records for all five clinics three weeks after filing the open records request. Some of them were pages long, listing numerous violations. Those violations were for items like expired medications and medical instruments, including speculums.  Others listed unsterilized equipment, sterilized and non-sterile supplies stored in the same room with a traffic cone, the vent in a biohazard room taped off with cardboard, soiled linens in surgical rooms and stirrups wrapped in duct tape. One violation was for iodine swabs to prevent wound infections that had expired 10 years ago.
     
    "If I was a patient at that clinic I would be horrified to know that maybe the tools they were using were not clean," said Galloway.
     
    Planned Parenthood runs only one of the five surgical clinics. It's located in Augusta and had 23 violations in 2011, and paid a $1,400 fine.
     
    In a very candid interview, the organization's CEO told Geary there was a change in leadership at the clinic, and a corrective action plan was submitted. Still, state records show, inspectors didn't visit the clinic until two years later, in March 2013.
     
    Melanie Simon heads the Healthcare Facility Regulation for Georgia's Department of Community Health.
     
    "(The clinics) are inspected periodically," Simon told Geary. "Every two to three years, but there's no set rule for what periodic means under state or federal law."
     
    Geary asked if inspecting every two to three years is acceptable and ensures patient safety.
     
    “We believe that what we have is adequate," Simon answered.
     
    Galloway said she's shocked restaurants are inspected more frequently than these surgical clinics.
     
    "When I go to a restaurant in Cobb County, I can go online and I can pull up their health record," Galloway said.
             
    Fox said her Planned Parenthood facilities in Alabama are inspected more frequently than in Georgia.
     
    "I do know in Alabama they do come fairly regularly to our surgical sites. They're there annually," Fox said.
     
    Simon, who was on the job just three weeks before Georgia interviewed her, points out Georgia's Department of Community Health is responsible for inspecting 15,000 facilities across Georgia. Almost 400 are ambulatory surgical centers. Some facilities, including nursing homes, are inspected every year.
     
    "We are absolutely committed to making any changes that are necessary in the future to address patient needs," Simon added.
     
    Fox told Geary the reports also can be deceiving because the clinics have dealt with inspectors who have biases against abortion care.
     
    She also added other states, including Alabama, make it easy for people to access the inspection reports by putting them online. Georgia officials said they have no plans to follow suit.
     
    “I think there is probably more Georgia could be doing," Fox stated.


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