The Alaska Psychiatric Institute has received reaccreditation from a national group, a step toward normalcy for the troubled facility as it moves forward under private leadership.

The Joint Commission notified the Anchorage-based institute April 3 that it had been reaccredited for psychiatric care, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services. API has been operated by Wellpath Recovery Services under a $1-million-a-month contract, announced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy's administration in February.

“I am very pleased that API has once again received its Behavioral Health Care Accreditation from The Joint Commission as we were in imminent danger of losing that accreditation,” DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum said in a statement. “This provides further evidence that the actions we’ve taken over the last few months are making positive improvements for our patients and staff.”

Wellpath division director Jeremy Barr hailed the news Friday as “a huge achievement” for DHSS, the institute and its patients.

“We appreciate the hard work that went into addressing API’s short-term challenges, and have been proud to partner with the DHSS as they worked through them,” Barr said in a statement from the company. “Earning reaccreditation from The Joint Commission is no easy feat, and represents hundreds of hours of effort. This is the first of many steps required to get API back to full capacity, and we look forward to continuing to improve the quality of care available at API.”

A Wellpath spokeswoman deferred to DHSS for further comment on the decision, but noted that the company is continuing to hire API staff including additional psychiatrists.

A September report found that work conditions at API were unsafe, leading to the resignation of the institute’s CEO and two other officials within the department. Last month, the state ombudsman found allegations of improper conduct at API "justified" — including staff’s alleged ignorance of a patient’s rape by another patient — after assessing complaints about the facility.

In February, API was under four separate letters of correction from various authorities, including the commission. Crum had cited a letter from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services as the one of greatest concern, noting that API was addressing it but had missed two previous deadlines to do so. Other letters were sent by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, as well as the Health Facilities Licensing and Certification Section of DHSS.

According to DHSS on Friday, two improvement requirements from The Joint Commission regarding the institute’s medical staff and physical environment “were successfully addressed by API and Wellpath.”

The commission subsequently verified them in visits to API, as well as a review of its documentation. Its Quality Check website showed API accredited Friday, with its last on-site survey completed Jan. 29. A series of 2018 safety recommendations included eliminating transfusion errors and identifying patients who pose a suicide risk: all 16 marked complete as of Friday.

Critics of API include the Disability Law Center, which has sued the state over the placement of psychiatric patients in Department of Corrections facilities. The center’s legal director, Mark Regan, said in an email Friday that the center was glad to hear of the reaccreditation, even as some issues remain unsolved.

“However, our primary concern about API has been that it is operating so far below its 80-bed capacity that people awaiting evaluations are waiting in jails and hospital emergency rooms instead of at API, which doesn’t have the capacity to evaluate them,” Regan wrote. “That is a problem the state has a legal responsibility to solve, and it hasn’t done it. Continued accreditation keeps API open, but it doesn’t ensure that it and the rest of the system will do their jobs to protect vulnerable Alaskans with mental illness.”

DHSS officials were gathering details Friday on the exact changes which led to the institute’s reaccreditation and how they were assessed.

Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.

RELATED STORIES: