DOVER, Del. (AP) — The state Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill authorizing tighter regulations on abortion clinics in Delaware following recent problems at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Wilmington.
The bill, which now goes to the House, allows abortion clinic employees, not just patients, to file complaints for investigations by the Department of Health and Social Services.
The legislation also requires abortion clinics to be accredited by a state-approved independent accrediting organization with no conflict of interest. Planned Parenthood accredits its own clinics.
Sen. Robert Venables, the chief sponsor of the bill, said the legislation is not aimed at closing abortion clinics but to improve the conditions in which they operate.
"They cannot accredit themselves, which basically what was happening," said Venables, D-Laurel.
The Planned Parenthood clinic was cited by public health officials recently for several unsafe and unsanitary practices, and state medical licensing officials filed a formal complaint last month against a doctor who performed abortions there, saying he represented a "clear and immediate danger to the public."
A complaint by the state Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline accuses Dr. Timothy F. Liveright of engaging in multiple acts of incompetence and negligence in performing abortions on five patients in February and March of this year.
The complaint also notes that Liveright was reprimanded by Planned Parenthood in March of last year for unprofessional conduct that included sexually harassing female employees and "yelling, screaming, and cursing" in front of patients and employees.
According to the medical licensing board's complaint, Liveright, 68, sent a letter to state officials in April saying he had retired from practicing medicine in Delaware.
Two years ago, Delaware lawmakers passed a bill requiring DHSS to develop accreditation regulations by March of last year for facilities in which invasive medical procedures are performed, but DHSS still has not established those regulations. DHSS also missed a March 2012 deadline for adopting regulations to strengthen oversight of facilities where invasive medical procedures are performed.
Jill Fredel, a spokeswoman for DHSS said public health officials are still working on what she described as complex regulations.
"The bottom line is that DHSS has to get the regulations right because we are responsible for protecting the public's health," Fredel explained in an email.
Fredel said the regulations have been out for public comment since April and will be reissued based on the bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday.
"We have intended all along for accrediting bodies to be independent, so we appreciate that idea being codified," she said.
But Jayne Mitchell-Werbrich, one of two nurses who reported problems at the Planned Parenthood clinic, said she does not trust DHSS to render proper oversight.
Mitchell-Werbrich said she reported problems at the clinic to DHSS and the Division of Professional Regulation a year ago, but nothing was done until recent media articles about problems at the clinic.
"I found that DHSS is incompetent," she testified Tuesday.
But Venables said that after meeting with state public health director. Dr. Karyl Rattay, he is confident in the approval of an independent accrediting agency for Planned Parenthood.