Hospitals may SAY they are trying to improve patient safety, but the errors are increasing anyway. While mandating that error rates improve, and making loud noises so the public thinks they mean it, hospitals are at the same time tying at least an arm, and possibly a leg behind their worker’s backs.
More patients are dying, more are getting sicker, more are being injured while IN the hospital. All this according to a study conducted on 6,481 patient records over 12 months in the Boston area. They found 1,530 adverse events that weren’t associated with the patient’s original reason for admission to the hospital, an increase of 28 percent after decreasing staffing. The study is reported in the Boston Herald.
In short, these hospitals are talking out of two sides of their mouths.
On the heals of reading the results of this study, I received an email yesterday from a young woman who got caught in the travesty that has been created in hospitals. She raised her concerns to the powers-that-be at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for situations that created danger for patients — and got fired for her concern. It seems whistle-blowing in Maryland is a dangerous thing. She sacrificed herself for the future benefit of patients. And frustratingly, it doesn’t seem to have helped anything.
Further, according to the stories I hear from patients and their loved ones all over the country, those particular hospitals are not the only ones. There’s a lot of lip service to improving patient safety. And it’s a perfect example of how our dysfunctional healthcare system works in the US. It goes like this:
Budgets get cut, and patient care staff are laid off, or hours are cut back so fewer workers are available to patients at any given moment. The numbers of patients don’t decrease, however, and in places where hospitals or other care facilities have closed, the numbers of patients in the hospital will increase.
Safety and caretaking require attention to details — details such as double checking medications, verifying which patients are which, transporting patients properly through the hospital, administering treatments correctly, even operating on the correct body parts. When personnel become stretched so thin, the first thing that goes is attention to detail.
Think of it this way. You and your spouse have two children. They are both demanding, as children are. You must pay attention to all your daily caretaking details from feeding them, to keeping them clean, to getting them to and from school and overseeing homework, to making sure they don’t get lost, to providing a roof over their heads, to making sure they don’t watch TV that could skew their thinking to this and that and the next thing, to saving for college — everything.
Now one of you goes away from divorce or death or for whatever reason. Not only is the remaining parent’s workload double, but you have the additional challenge of trying to keep it together emotionally because you are upset that you are no longer working together to raise your children. You still have all those child raising details to take care of — and you have the additional stress of managing the details associated with the halving of personnel to do it.
Studies abound at the detrimental effects on children of being raised in single parent households (and believe me — I’ve read them — I was a single parent for most of my children’s upbringing).
How can we expect care in a hospital to be safer when we put patients in the hands of fewer people who can attend to details?
The bottom line for patients is this: despite what they tell us, despite what they publish, despite the noise they make while you are there — hospitals are dangerous places. They become more dangerous when fewer people are there to attend to details. There is too good a chance you will experience an adverse event if you spend time in a hospital. So you (or your loved one) will have to be very diligent about attending to all those details that the workers may miss because their ranks are stretched so thin.
There is a good guide for hospital consumers put out by Consumers Union. If you find yourself facing a hospital stay, then take a look. It’s worth your time and may save your life.
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