Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Friday, November 11, 2005

Newspaper downplays hospital deaths

Five years ago, a Harvard study found that 98,000 people were dying each year as a result of preventable medical errors.

Last month, the authors of that study said that 98,000 people are still dying each year. The numbers have barely changed despite the landmark report, “To Err is Human,” in 2000 that focused attention on the appalling financial and emotional cost of a culture that still refuses to acknowledge its mistakes.

You would think that this finding would be a significant story in any newspaper worthy of the name. But the management of the Times Union clearly didn’t think so: The release of the follow-up study was reported very quietly in a brief item in that week’s paper.

The same thing happened when the Associated Press distributed a long story last year on the Sorry Works program, in which a few hospitals have been able to avoid a large number of lawsuits by promptly acknowledging mistakes. Newspapers in many places around the country ran the AP story in full. But not the Times Union: The Albany paper, beholden as it is to the area’s medical community, relegated the story to a single paragraph at the end of a related brief on an inside page.

Detailed research done over the past month explains why: From 1999 to this year the Times Union reported not one of the dozens of medical malpractice lawsuits filed against Capital Region hospitals – hospitals that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising with the paper.

But the management of a newspaper that continues to accept a significant amount of advertising revenue from the hospitals in the Capital Region is evidently unconcerned about the 260 people who die each day in the U.S. as a result of preventable medical errors.

Where was the longer, detailed story about the new study? Where was the strong editorial demanding changes to stop this carnage?

They didn’t appear. And they won’t. Because the management of this newspaper clearly considers the money its gets from the hospitals far more important than the wellbeing of the public it pretends to serve.

The TU dodges a bullet when a media watchdog wimps out.