Op-Ed: CT hospitals must do more to prevent errors and patient harm

So much for safety huddles!

The Connecticut Hospital Association and Connecticut hospitals have been loudly praising their own efforts to improve patient safety and outcomes in our state’s hospitals.  They talk about working with reliability experts to address system flaws that are harming patients. But they can’t talk proudly of the results of that work when a recent national report on infections placed Connecticut 50th of 50 states and a Department of Public Health report recently released shows a dramatic increase in safety failures in our hospitals.

Op-ed submit bugThank heaven for public reporting.  Due to the efforts of the CT Center for Patient Safety, AARP, and then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal,  Connecticut has passed two bills requiring hospital-specific infection and adverse event reporting.  Unlike other states, our hospital association has historically owned and controlled the data that provides a window to what is going on.

The two reports that have recently become available should make us all focus on demanding that every hospital CEO stand up in public and say he or she will make patients the focus and safety a solemn top commitment.  Why are so many of them being paid over a million dollars each year when a person who is harmed might actually face bankruptcy because of an error on their watch?

Where are the CEOs on this issue? What has happened to the hospital boards of directors?  Why aren’t your boards demanding responsibility and accountability for fulfilling the hospital mission?

Moreover, our Department of Public Health needs to put some real teeth into whatever it is DPH is doing. DPH comments on their disappointing recent report seem much too complacent when a sense of urgency is called for. As unwelcome as it may seem, the regulatory relationship with hospitals should be adversarial if that is what it is going to take to help the public receive safer care.

Hope is not a method.  Action and accountability are required — and required now.  For every patient getting an infection today, or finding that the doctor performed surgery on the wrong site, or discovering extra surgery is needed because an object was left in — just a few of the most egregious errors — that person cannot wait for the next safety huddle.

The hypocrisy of these institutions is galling.  We are told to trust – but sorry, that trust has been broken.

Lisa Freeman

Lisa Freeman

The Journal of Patient Safety reported last year that between 200,000 and 400,000 deaths each year can be attributed to medical error.  This is a national emergency – and Connecticut is having its own.

Errors are preventable – it’s time to prevent them. For the full report on just how badly we are doing in Connecticut go to this Medicare site, this story by the Connecticut Health Investigative Team,  and this Connecticut Department of Health report to the General Assembly.

Lisa Freeman is executive director of the Connecticut Center for Patient Safety.

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