Hospital Unaccountability Extends to Outbreaks of Infectious Diseases

Contaminated_surfaces_increase_cross-transmissionSan Francisco     The Affordable Care Act has given health consumers, also known frequently as patients, more significant advances in transparency and information about hospitals and doctors. Medical records are being digitized and becoming accessible. Information is being made public on doctors, exposing some have Medicare mills. It appears the public is getting closer to being able rate and rank hospitals on cost and efficacy in handling various procedures. There’s hope we may be able to be better informed on questions that impact our own life prospects and therefore better able to make decisions and evaluate the opinions and prognosis of this powerful priesthood of doctors and the temples or hospitals where they practice.

Despite this glasnost, it was unsettling, perhaps even shocking, to read a story from the Los Angeles Times that showed light on the veil of secrecy practiced by hospitals in shielding information from the public on outbreaks of infections, whether from staph or so-called superbugs, or other seemingly inexplicable epidemics that suddenly take down otherwise healthy patients often passing through the hospital on minimal or routine visits. Worse, what we know is often only years later through tangential revelations in medical journals still disguising the names of the hospital and other critical details that might have saved lives when a stitch in time was still possible.

The Los Angeles Times told about six children having been killed suddenly in an unknown hospital due to a fungal infection that later information indicated had occurred at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles several years before due to dust picked up from construction of an overhead sidewalk at the facility. Other examples in Florida and California caused what may be countless deaths, once again only puzzled out for the public years later, because of a design flaw in instruments that prevented complete cleaning. In another case, a doctor had inadvertently spread a staph infection into the hearts of five patients and eventually in sixty others before the health department was able to track the problem down and stamp it out. Tell me all of this isn’t scary as heck!

So, we can say that stuff happens, even bad and evil stuff, but that doesn’t excuse not warning the public as you would with other situations of public health outbreaks. The defense offered by the hospitals and some of their governmental minders is that if the hospitals were not promised confidentiality then they might not report any of the incidents to public health authorities at all, even though everyone agrees that the reporting is not comprehensive even with confidentiality. The hospitals argue that they don’t want to panic the public. The rationalizations seem unending. It’s hard to believe that this isn’t really about having to face liability and legal actions for such errors, but maybe that’s a euphemism for “panic.”

Amazingly, there seems to be virtually no legislation at the federal or state level that mandates reporting or assigns penalties for failing to report. Our legislators seem to be wittingly covering for the abuse and neglect of these priests and their sanctuaries just as we have experienced in other institution where inadequate accountability and disclosure are the rule. A law in California passed after an egregious case requiring a hospital report of how many of their patients get infections seemed a positive note, but then the mother of the victim was quoted saying that she was on the supervisory board and that 12 of the 17 members were doctors and hospitals and only wanted to protect “their employers.”

What do we do in a world where to stay healthy we have to stay away from hospitals? Public disclosure would advance public health and consumer health decisions and confidence. Why is this a hard thing to ask from our politicians?

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Jimmie Rodgers- TB Blues

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