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Inspections of health care facilities likely to expand

Pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care facilities are likely to face greater scrutiny under the $34 billion budget approved by lawmakers this week.

The spending plan, which was sent to Governor Deval Patrick for his approval, includes an additional $1.3 million for pharmacy inspections and an extra $1.2 million for review and inspections of hospitals and other health care facilities.

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Dr. Madeleine Biondolillo, director of Health Care Safety and Quality, said the money will allow the public health department to hire more inspectors to visit facilities. She said she did not know how many. It also will allow the health department to more quickly approve or deny major expansion projects proposed by health care organizations, she said.

The additional funding for pharmacy inspectors follows a major national public health crisis last year blamed on a Framingham speciality pharmacy. More than 740 people were sickened, and 55 died, in a national fungal meningitis outbreak caused by contaminated steroids. The pharmacy had not been regularly inspected by the state pharmacy board, which is overseen by the health department.

Since then, the board has conducted routine, unannounced inspections of 40 similar pharmacies, uncovering numerous problems. Biondolillo said the money will allow the department to continue the surprise inspections and expand its oversight in other ways.

The $1.2 million increase for the safety and quality bureau, which licenses hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care facilities, restores some of the previous reductions to its budget. During the past four years, the bureau has lost about $4.7 million, a 26 percent cut when adjusted for inflation, according to an analysis by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

The Globe reported this year that the agency had a five-month wait to respond to consumer complaints in Massachusetts hospitals, nursing homes, dialysis centers, and clinics, and that medical and biological waste from about 600 biotechnology firms was not being routinely monitored to ensure proper disposal.

The department receives about 14,000 complaints a year about health care facilities, ranging from patient falls and allegations of sexual abuse to surgeries performed on the wrong part of a patient’s body.

“We don’t go out on 14,000 episodes,’’ Biondolillo said. “More inspectional capacity allows us to do more of this work. This gives us the opportunity to do the best job we can do.’’

Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at Follow her on twitter @GlobeLizK.
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