Audit: State agency overseeing X-ray facilities behind on inspections

Filed at the Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency. (Photo by Mitch Quesada/Cronkite News)

The state agency overseeing X-ray facilities is overdue on inspections for about half of them, creating a public health risk, the Arizona Auditor General’s Office reports.

“If an X-ray machine hasn’t been looked at in several years and hasn’t been calibrated and reviewed and made sure that it’s operating properly, it does present a public health risk,” said Marc Owen, a performance audit manager.

The audit, released Sept. 29, said the Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency has had difficulty meeting inspection time frames for more than three decades and that 49 percent of X-ray facilities, about 2,700 in all, were overdue for inspection. About 44 percent of hospital/therapy facilities, deemed high-risk, were overdue for inspection.

It noted that just one of the agency’s four X-ray inspectors was trained to inspect high-risk facilities.

Jerry Perkins, X-ray compliance project manager for the Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency, said understaffing creates backlogs.

“We have 16,000 X-ray units across the state of Arizona. I have four X-ray inspectors,” he said. “I’m glad we’re only 50 percent behind, to be honest with you.”

The audit said the Medical Radiologic Technology Board of Examiners, part of the Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency, hasn’t always ensured that it’s certifying qualified applicants to operate X-ray machines. Problems cited included some people getting second chances on the same day to answer examination questions they missed when statute requires that unsuccessful applicants apply to take the exam again.

Aubrey Godwin, the agency’s director, said the problems are in the hands of the state Legislature.

“The Legislature determines what we get and how we go about it,” he said. “Suggestions have been made to it, and they turned it down.”

The audit said the agency has implemented an electronic filing system for inspection reports and registrations to save inspectors time but added that it isn’t enough. Among its recommendations: using private inspectors and using forming research groups to improve the timeliness of inspections.

The Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency agreed with most of the audit’s recommendations. But Godwin wrote that he disagrees with a finding that the Medical Radiologic Technology Board of Examiners lacks authority to issue certificates for radiation therapy, computed tomography and student mammography and therefore must stop and “do away” with those that have been issued.

Godwin said legislation gave his agency implicit authority to issue the certificates and that it would continue to honor certificates that have already been issued because not doing so would jeopardize public health.

“We feel it’s in the public health interest to continue to have those certificates be enforced, and thus continue the program, until the Legislature can decide what they really want to do and how they want to go about it,” he said.