Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Enough is enough


For hospitals and their insurance
companies, it’s value for money

Posted Sept. 14, 2008

There is an old adage that says: “Any publicity is good publicity.”

For some people, that may be true.

But it’s different for the operators of a hospital or nursing home, when the publicity is about patients dying or being injured while in their care.

It’s not good for business. Not for the medical facility. And not for its insurance company, which might have to pay out far more in a case that has been all over the news than it would if the alleged harm is kept quiet.

Which would explain why, for the past decade, the operators of medical facilities in the Capital Region have kept virtually every medical malpractice lawsuit filed against them out of the news.

They’ve done it by what in some contexts would look like bribery. They pay the media a lot of money for advertising. And the media ignores legal claims of alleged malpractice that caused death or injury.

Quid pro quo. Something for something. Just like many politicians.

That is a serious accusation. Four years ago a detailed letter was sent to the editor and to the publisher of the Times Union, describing what had been found and asking for comment. It produced not even an acknowledgment of the correspondence, certainty not a denial or explanation.

And here’s an example of selective reporting that really makes the point: When Laura Woolsey, who had a heart condition, died of a heart attack after her complaints of extreme pain were repeatedly ignored by contract medical staff at a jail, the TU ran several stories and an editorial.

But when almost exactly the same thing happened to Joan Clark at Albany Memorial Hospital, the paper didn’t print a word. Not when the lawsuit was filed. And not three years later when it was settled.

The jail's healthcare contractor, of course, doesn’t advertise in the TU.

In the Lillian Cedeno case, the publicity could have cost Albany Medical Center Hospital’s insurance carrier an additional $325,000 – $658,000 in today’s dollars – when it paid out on the claim in 1986.

That’s according to Troy attorney E. Stewart Jones, who represented the Cedeno estate, and who knows something about medical malpractice claims. The case was settled for $400,000. Without the media attention, he said at the time, the insurer would have paid as little as $75,000 for the lives of Lillian Cedeno and her baby.

Who says advertising doesn’t pay?

But it also does nothing to reduce the horrendous toll of death and injury in hospitals. In fact, it could well be having the opposite effect because everyone involved knows mistakes will be kept secret; there will be no public embarrassment.

Add to that the knowledge that a team of lawyers is ready to fight every claim, no matter how strong – which also discourages the filing of many valid claims – and the result is a continuing culture of denial that is causing countless unnecessary deaths and injuries.

All aided and abetted – to their financial benefit – by news organizations that boast about defending the public’s right to know while actively hiding public information that is easily obtainable and which, as former TU editor Harry Rosenfeld and a Health Department spokesman have said, is clearly in the public’s interest to know.

Enough. This alliance against the public good must be dismantled. The only question now is: How much damage will the participants allow to be done to themselves when it happens?

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