Articles Posted in Medical Errors

New York hospitals continue to rank poorly compared to the rest of the country, according to the nonprofit LeapFrog’s rankings released last month. According to Washington D.C. organization, which ranks hospitals on 12 factors related to patient safety and then assigns a letter grade between A and F to each hospital, New York is the 47th worst state for patient safety at hospitals. Just 7.5 percent of New York hospitals received an “A” – a pathetically low percentage compared to states like Maine, Utah and Virginia, which received “A” at 50 to 60 percent of their hospitals. 

The Empire State has almost three times as many hospitals with a “D” rating (30) than an “A” rating (11), according to LoHud.com. Unlike the federal government which takes medical outcomes and other indicators of quality into account when assigning its maligned star-rating system, Leapfrog Group focuses on preventable safety issues. Examples include mistakes like leaving sponges or medical equipment in bodies or preventable infections caused by unsanitary conditions. The nonprofit told Lohud.Com that its ranking system provided more helpful information to patients “because it focuses on the most serious life-or-death measures.” 

Here are the patient safety rankings for hospitals in the Hudson Valley, published for Fall 2019: 

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Every year, hospitals across the United States are graded on their record for patient safety by the federal government and a nonprofit organization, Leapfrog Group. The federal government uses a “star-based” rating system where hospitals receive a grade between one and five stars, with a one-star rating representing a hospital with serious and widespread safety problems. According to LoHud.com, New York had 48 one-star facilities in the state. Six of these unsafe hospitals were in the Hudson Valley.
Leapfrog Group focuses on more “preventable safety issues”, according to the local newspaper. The metrics used in Leapfrog’s calculations focus on the rate of “infections and medical mistakes, like sponges or tools left in bodies” or “complications such as collapsed lungs.” The nonprofit group assigns a letter grade to each major hospital in the country, which range from an “A” to an “F.” The researchers at Leapfrog point to a study by Johns Hopkins University that found 160,000 deaths each year are caused by “hospital-acquired” conditions – such as infections. Of the 30 hospitals receiving a “D” or “F” grade in New York, two are located in the Hudson Valley. According to Leapfrog, only 12 percent of hospitals nationwide receive a letter grade below “C”.

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According to The New York Times, long-term care hospitals continue to provide poor care to elderly Americans. Long-term care hospitals, also called long term acute care hospitals, provide care typically after a person is being discharged from intensive care and is too sick to return to their nursing home. Close to 400 long-term care hospitals exist in the United States, a number that has dipped in the last decade after skyrocketing in the 90s from just 38.

The proliferation of long-term care hospitals during the period is now largely regarded as unnecessary and many elder care advocates say they harmed individuals while enriching their owners. Because patients at these hospitals are so sick, the hospital receives hefty sums performing multiple procedures and diagnostics on their patients. In 2017 alone, Medicare – which pays for two-thirds of all long-term care stays – paid out an eye-wateringly high 4.5 billion to these several hundred hospitals.

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New York City amended its opioid lawsuit against Purdue Pharmaceuticals to include the company’s owners, the Sackler family, as well as several retailers and pharmacy chains, including CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreens, and Walmart. The lawsuit alleges that Purdue Pharmaceuticals, maker of OxyContin, deceptively marketed their addictive drugs under the direction of their owners, the Sackler family, and the retailers who dispensed the drugs enabled the opioid epidemic currently ravaging communities across the country. In addition to increasing the number of defendants allegedly responsible for contributing to the opioid epidemic, the lawsuit also consolidated dozens of lawsuits filed by other local governments.

The consolidation of lawsuits and inclusion of the popular drugstores was widely expected, the group of defendants is being sued by local governments across the country and by the federal government. The inclusion of the Sackler family, on the other hand, was a recent development in the opioid cases. According to The New York Times, a lawsuit against Purdue Pharmaceuticals in Massachusetts unearthed emails showing members of the Sackler family were “far more involved” than previously believed. According to the lawsuits against the company, Purdue Pharmaceuticals deceptively marketed Oxycontin, a powerful and addictive opioid, as appropriate for long-term pain management and claiming, without evidence, that “less than one percent of [Oxycontin users] become addicted.” The aggressive promotion of Oxycontin led to $1 billion in annual sales within a few years and is now widely understood to have ignited the country’s opioid epidemic.

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A recent study by The Doctors Company found that misdiagnosis is the top allegation in medical malpractice lawsuits filed across the country that involve children. The researchers conducting the study said “misdiagnosis” included missed, failed or the wrong diagnosis and were largely the result of inadequate medical examinations, according to Fierce Healthcare. The study conducted by a non-profit doctors group involved reviewing over 1,200 medical malpractice lawsuits filed across the country through 2008 and 2017.

The report also illuminated several prominent trends in medical malpractice lawsuits. For example, poor communication was cited as a factor causing the child’s injury in 15 and 22 percent of the lawsuits. Systemic failures were also a common factor. Systemic failures typically meant not notifying patients of important test results, according to the online news agency.

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The New York Medical Board is slow to punish doctors who lose their license to practice in other states. According to The New York Post, the state licensing board for doctors took between “a few weeks to several months” to stop 14 doctors who had lost their ability to practice medicine in New Jersey over the last six months. Perhaps even more worrisome, the local newspaper found that two of those doctors were still practicing medicine despite being deemed unfit to practice just across the river. New Jersey did not perform much better at ensuring potentially dangerous doctors stayed away from the state’s patients – five doctors with their New York licenses suspended in the last six months were still practicing in the state.

Perhaps overstating the obvious, Patient-safety advocate Betsy McCaughey told The Post that licensing board’s slow movement on incompetent doctors “could lead to unnecessary additional harm to patients.” The founder of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths then harped on the unnecessary risk to patients by stating “all you have to do is send an email.” McCaughey correctly notes that the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners receives a daily alert for doctors whose license has been suspended or permanently revoked. With this information delivered each day, it is not unreasonable to expect a prompt investigation.

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The federal government opened a probe into a hospital run by the Department of Veteran Affairs. According to the New York Daily News, the federal probe is a response to a veteran’s allegations of neglect, medical malpractice, and elder abuse. The local newspaper describes the experience of Gary Zambito, who served in the armed forces during the Vietnam War. During his military service, Zambito suffered an injury which led to health complications for the next fifty years. While he trusted the VA to look after his care, Zambito describes a nightmare of incompetence and fraud. Zambito says the care provided by the VA was so insufficient that it “nearly killed” him. After suing the government for $4 million, the federal government opened a probe into the nursing home and hospitals for criminal malfeasance.

According to the veteran, he sought help from his local VA hospital on Long Island back in 2015 when he started experiencing “dizzy spells” that would commonly end in blackouts. Zambito says he told doctors that being knocked unconscious in the Vietnam War led to heart problems – specifically, an irregular and rapid heart rate. Despite this knowledge, doctors did not seem interested in drawing the connection between Zambito’s fainting spells and his heart condition. After being told that there was nothing the doctors could do to help him, Zambito spent the next three years simply enduring the dizzy spells and fainting. According to his attorney, the veteran fell and injured himself 18 times over the next 14 months. Finally, he went to a private doctor who prescribed the drug Flecainide Acetate, which eliminated the fainting problem immediately.

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In a major victory for New York nurses, several major hospitals agreed to establish minimum staffing levels for nurses at hospitals. The unions representing the nurses in negotiations had threatened to a 10,000-strong strike at the hospitals if the hospitals did not satisfy their demands. Marc Kramer, the lead negotiator for the hospitals, told The New York Times, “This significant investment in our nursing teams will ultimately benefit patients in the long term, while preserving hospital’s flexibility to deliver the individual, tailored health care that our institutions are known for around the world.” The hospitals agreeing to minimum staffing levels for nurses include Mount Sinai, New York-Presbyterian, and Montefiore hospital systems.

Nurses have fought for established minimum nursing ratios for years. Frustrated by the Albany’s reluctance to take action, the nurses finally threatened to walk off the job this year. While the exact ratios have not been decided yet, California’s mandatory minimum ratios differ depending on the circumstances – more nurses are required in the ICU than an urgent care clinic. For example, California requires one nurse for every eight healthy babies in a nursery ward. The New York Times says that New York-Presbyterian nurses describe a workload that is at least double what would be legal in California.

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A Tennessee woman is suing her doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center for allegedly operating on the wrong kidney. The woman, Carla Miller, went to the Nashville hospital in November 2017 running a fever and complaining of pain in her side. The medical professionals at the hospital decided Miller would need a stent put in her right kidney. A stent is a small mesh tube and was intended to connect Miller’s right kidney to her bladder. Unfortunately, the doctors botched the surgery and put the stent on her left kidney, which was functioning normally at the time.

Now, Miller is suing the hospital for medical malpractice. She says that the failed surgery caused permanent damage and she will now be on dialysis for the rest of her life. Further, Miller will need to undergo two more surgeries – one surgery to remove the misplaced stent and one surgery to place the stent in the correct location. According to the lawsuit filed by Miller, she is seeking $25 million in damages from the hospital. Describing the ordeal to CBS New York, Miller said, “This type of error is shocking and inexcusable in modern medicine, and it is mind-boggling that it could occur at an institution like Vanderbilt.”

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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)
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