Monday, April 23, 2007

Show Me The Numbers??

How many preventable medical errors are actually happening in our hospitals? When our friends, neighbors or family go into the hospital, are they safe? I really don’t know. No one seems to have the numbers because no one has to report it to the public. Do we even know how many people have the wrong procedure done, have been misdiagnosed or have had procedures they never even needed?

I was recently asked by a well respected community leader what is the problem on Long Island. Show me the numbers. I’m not sure we ever could. That’s because there is no funding available to pressure the hospitals to come clean in their reporting to the public. The funding to our legislators actually comes from the hospitals and healthcare industry.

Deaths from preventable medical errors are a problem across the country as reported by the Institute of Medicine in 1999. As many as 98,000 people die in hospitals from preventable medical errors in this country. Healthgrades, an independent firm in Colorado almost doubled that number in 2004 to 195,000 deaths. With 300 million people in the country and 3 million people on Long Island, using the lowest estimate, that would mean as many as 1,000 people die on Long Island in hospitals from preventable medical errors. Hospital acquired infections (HAIs) kill over 100,000 people annually which means the same amount of people on Long Island are dying from HAIs each year.

Firemen and policemen go to work fully prepared to do their jobs for safety reasons but yet hand washing in hospitals is still seen as a burden to many who work there.

On July 20, 2006, a report from the Institute of Medicine came out again that as many as 1.5 million people are injured from medication errors every year. Using this same calculation this would mean that 15,000 Long Islanders suffer from medication errors every year.

This may not be the statistics that our community leaders want but it is we have right now. And actually, when it’s your mother, father or child who dies or is permanently injured by a preventable medical error, isn’t “one” the number that counts?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Patient Safety: It's Nobody's Responsibility

Most recently I met with Nassau County Presiding Officer Judith Jacobs to ask about Nassau County funding programs to educate patients and families about patient safety so they can understand the complexities of healthcare and learn about patient safety. Guess what she said – there is no funding available. This is hard to believe when Newsday reports that part time politically appointed board members are given full health benefits. The presiding officers of both Suffolk and Nassau county legislatures criticized the benefits as if they didn’t know about it.

What I find appalling after reading articles like this is that in April of 2005 I met with Mary Curtis, Nassau Deputy County Executive for Health & Human Services and we spoke briefly about the need for Nassau County to show some interest in patient safety as part of health and human services. She told me then, the same thing her predecessor told me a year earlier. There is no funding for patient safety education.

Only a year earlier, she was supportive because it was not her saying they can’t help, it was Mr. John Gallagher who went on to be the Interim Director and CEO of Stony Brook University Hospital.

I had the same conversation with my own county legislator Dennis Dunne Sr. and he too said there was no funding available. The list goes on and on. And in most cases, none of these county leaders even knew there was a problem with patient safety in our hospitals or in the healthcare system across the country. So, our tax dollars continue to be spent on health insurance for political appointees but not a dime is spent on Long Island for patient safety education and quality care for the residents.

I think the counties both Nassau and Suffolk owe it to the residents to put some effort into patient safety and quality education.

Monday, April 9, 2007

NY State Senator Kenneth LaValle and Stony Brook

NY State Senator Kenneth LaValle introduced legislation to establish a quality assessment board of 9 - 12 outside members for Stony Brook University Medical Center that would monitor patient safety. The plan did not pass muster in Albany. The bill is reportedly the same as a resolution passed last month by trustees of SUNY.

In response, Stony Brook Hospital plans to establish an advisory board, rather than an oversight board. And instead of the state being involved in implementing the process, Stony Brook Hospital will watch over itself.

Here are three questions for Stony Brook:

Will the board included national experts on patient safety who have a track record of reducing harm from medical mistakes? I hope it does because the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences says that most doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators were not trained to make health care organizations safer. Problems can't be fixed if people don't know how to.

Will the hospital report all of its *sentinel events to the board and report how each one was handled and the actions taken to prevent them from occurring again? If the hospital can't be candid with its own oversight board, how can the board do real oversight?

Finally, what power will the board have? If it is just advisory and has no teeth, what good will it do for the people of Long Island?

What do you think about what this board should do to make health care better and safer for patients and families?

*A sentinel event is defined by the Joint Commission as any unanticipated event in a healthcare setting resulting in death or serious physical or psychological injury to a person or persons, not related to the natural course of the patient's illness.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Free Scholarships Because they Survived the Healthcare System

An April 6, 2007 a Long Island Newsday article was written about the sextuplets born in Stony Brook University Hospital ten years ago. Thankfully, these six children are perfectly healthy and living normal lives. Stony Brook Hospital has offered them full college scholarships. What a heart warming story!

What happens at Stony Brook Hospital when medical errors or adverse events occur? Does Stony Brook Hospital tell patients and families what went wrong and why? Does it offer an apology, or even scholarships to families for their children when there is irreparable harm, or even death, from medical errors? Or is there a wall of silence and the doors are slammed shut?

The good news is that some hospitals around the country are beginning to do the right thing when patients are harmed. Will Stony Brook Hospital do the same?

The people who work at Stony Brook Hospital help many people return home healthy and able to live a long and happy life. But things don't always go so well, and people on Long Island are suffering today because of those mistakes and are still looking for answers.
What do you think Stony Brook Hospital should do when people are harmed by medical errors? PULSE is a non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to making health care better and safer for all of us on Long Island. I want to hear from you.