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The attorneys at Gallivan & Gallivan provide effective, aggressive representation to individuals injured in the New York area. Our priority is to maximize the recovery of our clients injured due to the neglect of others.

The Joint Commission released its report on the top sentinel events of 2018 and, unsurprisingly, patient falls and “unintended retention of a foreign body” took the top spot for another year. According to the Joint Commission, a sentinel event is “an unexpected event in a healthcare setting that results in death or serious injury to a patient.” While the overall number of sentinel events has declined in the last decade, some hospitals have seen a sharp increase.

Overall, these are the top ten sentinel events recorded in 2018 followed by the number of events self-reported to The Joint Commission:

  1. Falls (111)

A distracted driver is almost 30 times more likely to crash in a highway work zone. In a recent study reported on by Science Daily, researchers at the University of Missouri found that drivers who answered a phone call, texted, or reported being distracted by a passenger were 29 times more likely to be in a collision at or near a federal highway work zone. Given the decade-long increase in the number of car accidents on American roadways, state and federal transportation agencies will use the study to implement “countermeasures” to reduce the number of distracted drivers.

Traffic safety experts say the results of the study are not entirely surprising. Distracted driving is dangerous and substantially increases the risk of a car accident or pedestrian accident. Further, work zones typically have riskier road conditions such as poor signage, narrower lanes, and reduced visibility. The study, which included only data from federal highways, also pointed out that the high speed limit on highways – generally, 55 mph – meant that collisions would be harder to prevent and any resulting injuries more severe. The data included more than 3,000 drivers and covered more than 50 million miles.

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America has one of the highest maternity mortality rates in the developed world and, sadly, that rate is only increasing each year. According to hospitals, these ever-increasing number of childbirth complications are primarily caused by demographic and financial considerations out of their control – poor access to healthcare compounded by pre-existing health problems which commonly afflict low-income mothers. A recent analysis by USA Today, however, shows a different cause and puts the primary blame on the hospitals, not the mothers.

According to the newspaper, many of the hospitals with a high rate of childbirth complications are “training hospitals” for medical students. The newspaper delves into several stories of women receiving poor care while delivering their child at the hands of these physicians-in-training. In one instance, Felicia West slipped in the bathroom and fell on her six-month pregnant belly. After being admitted to Touro hospital in New Orleans she suffered a seizure and went into respiratory arrested. The doctors performed a C-section on West’s child and, while the baby was fine, the mother’s health continued to deteriorate. The doctors misdiagnosed her with a rare blood disorder and in the following days, her blood pressure continued to increase. According to the American College of Obstetricians, a blood pressure reading over 160 is the “most important factor” of a coming stroke in pregnant women and new moms. Strokes that are not “treated expeditiously can result in maternal death.”

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Workplace fatalities in New York rose 55 percent during 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. With 87 deaths during the year, the number of workplace fatalities has not been this high since 2008. The high number of deaths is especially surprising because the number of construction fatalities, the industry with the highest number of deaths each year, remained flat. Further, the high number of deaths follows a historically low number of deaths in the immediately preceding year. In 2016, only 56 workers died while performing their duties.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the high number of deaths was caused by two anomalies. First, the year saw an oddly high number of deaths caused by “falls, slips, and trips” outside of the construction industry. In total, 31 people died during the year compared to 13 in 2016. Second, seven finance workers, an industry not known for its hazardous job conditions, died during the year. No finance workers died while working in the immediately preceding five years. In another historical anomaly, workers dying from “unintentional overdoses” almost doubled from 10 to 18. With more Americans addicted to dangerous opiates, economic analysts expect this number to continue to increase.

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With Americans living even longer, hospitals have begun evaluating the best methods to ensure elderly surgeons are safe and competent in the operating room. Unlike other industries, such as aviation where commercial pilots are required to retire at 65, doctors and surgeons are not obligated to put down the scalpel and leave the operating room upon reaching a certain age. Given the precision and high stakes of performing an operation, health care experts worry whether this is a good idea – especially when studies show that doctors are not accurate judges of their own abilities.

Research has unambiguously shown that cognitive and physical abilities decline with age and surgeons must possess exceptional skills in both these areas to remain effective. The consequences of a delayed reaction or a minor slip of the forceps can be the difference between a patient living or dying. Studies on the mortality rate of patients with elderly surgeons have been mixed, however, with some studies showing a higher rate of patient deaths for surgeons over the age of 60 and other studies showing a lower rate. Speaking to The New York Times, Dr. E. Patchen Dellinger, an expert on aging physicians, said that the older surgeons bring to the operating room may outweigh his or her decline in abilities. In his opinion, there “are sharp, wonderful doctors, and those who need to stop” which he estimated to be approximately 5 to 10 percent of doctors over the age of 75.

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After a decade of rapid consolidation in the healthcare industry, researchers are now analyzing the effect of hospital mergers and the results show lower-quality care and higher prices for patients. According to an analysis by The New York Times, hospitals see an increase in both patient mortality rates and “patients with major health setbacks” after merging with another hospital. With one less competitor in the geographic area competing for patients, the higher price for medical care after a merger should not be surprising. However, hospitals and healthcare systems have often rallied public support for their mergers by touting improved patient care as one of the tangible benefits. Given the increased breadth of healthcare offered by larger hospitals and a supposedly synergistic benefit from having a single healthcare provider, hospitals reasoned that larger and more capable hospital systems would lead to better outcomes for their patients.

While touting better care for patients may be an effective tool for helping hospitals receive approval for their merger, the evidence on the subject points in a different direction. Several Medicare studies show hospital competition “results in lower rates of mortality from heart attacks and pneumonia.” A national study on cardiologists measured whether market concentration, or the number of cardiologists competing against each other for patients, effected patient care. The results showed that patients in areas with a “highly concentrated market,” where the majority of cardiologists worked for the same hospital or employer, are more likely to “have heart attacks, visit the emergency department, be readmitted to the hospital or die.” The author notes these increases “are large” – a cardiology practice that increased its market share from 40 percent to 60 percent would see heart attack rates increase by 5 to 7 percent.

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Pedestrian deaths are set to hit a 30-year high in America and government regulators are blaming SUVs and distracted driving for the record-setting number. According to a new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, the number of pedestrian deaths in 2018 increased by 250 people – bringing the total to a tragic 6,227 pedestrian deaths in America last year. According to the federal agency, the number of pedestrian deaths increased a whopping 51.5 percent since 2009. Less than a decade ago, America’s pedestrian death rate hit an all-time low of 4,109 following decades of declining pedestrian deaths caused by increases in safety technology and stricter enforcement of traffic safety laws.

Despite the continued innovations of safety technology, America’s pedestrian death rate has increased every year in the last decade. Traffic safety experts say that SUVs are a large part of the problem, noting that SUVs, which have outsold passenger cars since 2014, are more likely to kill pedestrians because of their larger size. A report by The Free Detroit Press bears out this theory finding that passenger deaths caused by passenger vehicles have increased only 30 percent since 2013, while deaths caused by SUVs have increased 50 percent during the same time period. Like other parts of American life, cell phones have also changed America’s driving habits and, unsurprisingly, contributed to more pedestrian deaths. According to AAA, wireless data usage increased by 4,000 percent between 2010 and 2017. The same report found that 49 percent of Americans talk on the phone while driving and 35 percent say they send emails and text. The final contributing factor, according to traffic safety experts, involves the higher percentage of Americans walking to work.

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Traffic accidents and fatalities caused by distracted driving continue to increase every year, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). Distracted driving is a catch-all term for activities which divert the driver’s attention from the roadway and can include a wide range of activities from changing the vehicle’s music to eating. The most notorious culprit – and the primary cause of the country’s increased accidents – however, is texting while driving. In a report by The New York Daily News, 71 percent of Americans admit to using their smartphone while driving.

According to the NHTSA, the risk of a car crash doubles whenever a driver takes his eyes off the road for just two seconds. With the proliferation of smartphones, drivers no longer stop at texting while driving. In a report by News 12, a full eight percent of drivers admit to watching videos on YouTube while driving. Perhaps even more worrisome, distracted driving is no longer a dangerous activity just for young drivers – 73 percent of parents admit to using their smartphone while their child is in the car. These drivers also appear well aware of the risks, with 55 percent describing distracted driving as the top safety threat on the road. Only one-third said drunk driving constituted their biggest safety concern on America’s roadways.

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A stunning and heartbreaking story about the unnecessary deaths of 28 emergency room patients caused by lethal doses of opiates prescribed by a single emergency room doctor has left families with two questions: Was the doctor woefully incompetent or intentionally murdering his patients? And, just as shockingly, how did a hospital allow the doctor to prescribe and administer a deadly dose of fentanyl to so many patients?

According to NBC News, Dr. William Husel, an intensive care doctor, is responsible for the deaths of 34 patients between 2015 and 2018. According to a hospital investigation, 28 of these patients died after receiving a dose of fentanyl 10 times higher than normal. In some circumstances, pain medication was unnecessary and administered without the patient’s permission. Dr. Husel’s medical license was suspended permanently last week without a hearing, a rare action depicting the gravity of his barbarous actions. Before the Ohio Medical Board’s action, the attorney general for the state called Dr. Husel “a serial killer on the loose with a medical license and access to fentanyl.” A criminal investigation is currently underway, but no homicide charges have been filed against the deadly doctor.

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America is one of only two countries in the world where the rate of deaths during pregnancy increased between 1990 and 2018. In an exhaustive expose in National Geographic, the news magazine details the causes of the country’s high rate of death for pregnant women, the widening racial disparity, and the progress meant to help alleviate the unnecessary and tragic problem. Given the increased attention to the issue in recent years, public health advocates are hopeful the trend will begin reversing itself in the next few years.

Overall, 700 women die each year giving birth in the United States – a rate of approximately 14 deaths per 100,000 births. However, this data does not show the wide racial disparities in the maternal death rate. For black Americans, the likelihood of dying during birth is more than three times higher than the average at 47 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. Native Americans also have a higher maternal death rate at almost 39 per 100,000. Comparatively, Hispanic and Asian American women have a lower-than-average rate of maternal deaths at 12.2 and 11.6, respectively. Researchers and public health advocates say the high maternal death rates are directly linked to a woman’s ability to access adequate prenatal healthcare – with almost 9 percent of black Americans receiving no prenatal care before giving birth. The research found a full 60 percent of the maternal deaths last year were fully preventable. Continue reading

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