Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Monday, July 07, 2008

Medical providers face challenges

Hard times ahead
for area’s hospitals

By David Baker
Posted Monday, July 7, 2008

With raising energy prices and a slowing economy, many business are facing difficult times. But now hospitals in New York have some new problems to deal with, all of their own making.

First there is the decision by Medicare and several commercial insurers not to pay for treatment that results from so-called “never events.” These events include such things as operating on the wrong body part or the wrong patient, leaving a foreign object such as a surgical sponge inside a patient, and allowing bedsores to develop.

Another “never event,” one that the federal government is proposing to add to the list it will no longer pay for, is hypoglycemia when it starts while a person is in the care of a medical provider.

That is exactly what happened to Lisa in Samaritan Hospital in 2003, according to the hospital’s own records.

The insurers say the decision not to pay for never events is partly to save money, but mainly to force hospitals to reduce medical errors.

Until now, Capital Region hospitals have done nowhere near enough to cut the number of deaths and injuries. Instead they have allowed their liability insurers to fight every claim no matter how strong, while dispensing money liberally to compliant politicians and the media. They in turn have responded by keeping regulations weak and virtually every malpractice claim filed in the past 10 years out of the press.

Now they are going to lose money for these never events. Samaritan was paid $74,000 to treat Lisa in an intensive care unit in the three weeks from when she was injured to the day she died. The hospital still has that money and its liability insurer has refused to pay it back to Medicare as part of any settlement.

Another hurdle facing New York hospitals is a law passed in June that ends mandatory overtime for nurses. The passage of the law comes after a decade-long campaign by the New York State Nurses Association and others to end forced overtime, which they say has contributed to errors made by tired nurses and caused many of them to leave the profession.

Hospitals have until next July to recruit more nurses for the open shifts. Either that or close wards and thus reduce their income.

And now the area’s medical providers face another challenge, again of their own making: The prospect of having details of virtually every lawsuit filed against them over the past decade made easily available to the public.

This listing, announced elsewhere on this page, will change the way people think about medical care. They will realize just how dangerous a hospital is, and how the people who run them have been more concerned with avoiding the consequences of their mistakes than preventing them, and how willing elected officials and the media have been to hide the truth.

Maybe hospital managers still won’t acknowledge their mistakes. Maybe they won’t start apologizing.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t be sorry.