Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Only hospital deaths concealed

Money-driven “conspiracy”
allows thousands to die

From the archives
This article first appeared
here on July 30, 2006

By David Baker

A 14-year-old resident of a group home drowns while on a swimming outing. Several weeks later, a report on an official investigation is released and a story appears in the media.

A paralyzed man drowns in a tub in the residence for the disabled where he lives, and at least three agencies launch investigations. One of them releases a report within days. It, and the progress of other investigations are widely reported in newspapers.

A prisoner awaiting sentence for killing her boyfriend dies after collapsing in her cell. Allegations of mistreatment of her by jail staff generate numerous stories and a newspaper editorial in the first week, and another story when the results of one of at lease three official investigations is released.

But a patient dies in a hospital under circumstances that raise many questions about the care she was given in the hours before she received catastrophic injuries, and even one of the most powerful politicians in the state can’t – or, more likely, won’t – make the detailed findings of the only official investigation available to the family.

Why would this be? Why are so many people who could stop it so willing to look the other way when it comes to the deaths of people in the care of a facility that is supposed to heal and “do no harm.”

The answer, of course, is money.

Money for politicians, who have kept laws that regulate hospitals weak and penalties low.

And money, in the form of advertising revenue, for the media, so that the public is kept unaware of allegations of medical malpractice, thus allowing doctors and hospitals to create a totally false image of safety and competence.

The truth is that a hospital is a very dangerous place. Even using the most conservative estimates, more people die needlessly in medical institutions than on the roads. The numbers are staggering: At least 120 preventable deaths a day in hospitals in the U.S., 18 of them each day in New York.

That’s five deaths as hour nationwide; one every 80 minutes in New York.

But this carnage goes on, day after day, year after year, and despite the talk about improving patient safety, those terrible numbers have stayed almost the same since a study from the Institutes of Health reported those numbers in 2000.

It doesn’t to be that way.

If the law made a failure to provide even basic care a violation, and provided penalties that were more than a joke, hospitals would have to change their ways. Nurse/patient ratios that were reduced so that a hospital could save money – as happened when Northeast Health cut a total of 225 positions to save $10 million soon after it acquired Samaritan and Albany Memorial Hospital in 1997 – would have to be restored.

And if newspapers were reporting the more serious allegations made in lawsuits – as they routinely did until the late 1990s, there would be only one way to stop the bad news; reduce the errors that led to the deaths and injuries, and when mistakes did occur, immediately and fully acknowledge them to the patient or the patient’s family.

But while politicians and newspaper editors remain so willing to sell their integrity for a hospital’s dollars, the huge financial and emotional cost will continue.

It's a disturbing thought: Hospitals, politicians and the media. Partners in so much suffering for profit.