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Infants kept suffering fractures and bruises at a Wis. hospital - and officials want to know why

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A nurse has been suspended and a Wisconsin hospital is under review after five infants suffered unexplained bruises and fractures to their arms, legs and heads, according to a federal inspection report.

The report, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said UnityPoint Health-Meriter in Madison did not take necessary steps to protect its tiniest, most vulnerable patients after an infant in the hospital's newborn intensive care unit turned up with bruises last April, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Since then, four other infants have suffered bruising and other injuries, including skull and arm fractures, according to the newspaper, which obtained the federal report.

"The facility failed to develop and implement an effective policy to prevent, screen, identify, train, protect, thoroughly investigate, report, and respond to any allegations of suspected abuse related to injuries of unknown origin and failed to thoroughly investigate injuries of unknown origin and failed to thoroughly investigate injuries of unknown origin ... when the first case was reported," the federal report said.

Officials at the nonprofit hospital have suspended a nurse who had cared for the patients; but without systemwide reforms, UnityPoint Health-Meriter stands to lose government funding, according to the newspaper.

A recent federal inspection revealed that bruises were found on the arm of a NICU patient on Feb. 2.

A doctor documented the infant's injuries, suspecting that they "may have been from patient clutching wires or peripheral intravenous device arm board used for stabilization," according to the report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The next day, another young patient was found to have bruising on the right arm and left wrist; a doctor noted that the injuries were from wrapping the baby in a blanket.

On Feb. 4, that same infant turned up with bruising on the face and swelling around the eye, and three days later, a bump was discovered on the same child's head. Testing revealed recent arm and skull fractures, according to the report.

During a probe, two other cases came to light, alleging past bruising on the feet, ankles and legs of infants.

The federal report said that medical personnel did not consult with a child abuse expert until Feb. 8 - six days after the first NICU incident. The nurse was suspended that same day.

A spokeswoman said UnityPoint Health-Meriter is cooperating with local, state and federal agencies.

"We have successfully worked with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to address their most immediate concerns, and we continue to work on a longer term corrective action plan for their review," the spokeswoman said in a statement Friday to The Washington Post. "We cannot comment on protected and private patient information nor on the substance of the ongoing reviews.

"We have implemented enhanced safety measures," the statement said, "and our commitment to provide safe care to our patients and families has never been stronger."

UnityPoint Health operates hospitals and clinics in Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. The Meriter facility is described as "a 448-bed community hospital, providing a complete range of medical and surgical services."

A Madison Police Department spokesman said authorities are aware of the allegations and are investigating them, but no arrests have been made.

The spokesman told The Post that the hospital has since put new safety measures in place.

Indeed, UnityPoint Health-Meriter has installed video cameras and assigned a security officer to the NICU, the report said.

"During the course of the recent survey other levels of noncompliance were discovered," Elizabeth Schinderle, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a statement to CBS affiliate WISC. "As a result, CMS finalized the full survey report and issued it to the facility yesterday, March 7. They now have the opportunity to submit another plan of correction (POC) which CMS will then review. If that POC is found to be acceptable, the next step in the process would be an unannounced, on-site survey."

WISC reported that due to what CMS called an "immediate threat to patient health and safety," the Medicare program will not make any payments on or after May 24.