Hospitals

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How California’s Mentally Ill Children Suffer — Few Hospital Beds Statewide

 (Debora Bogaerts/Flickr)

(Debora Bogaerts/Flickr)

CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, the original version of this story incorrectly identified John Muir Medical Center, Concord as the facility where Maria Ramirez’s granddaughter was taken. We regret that error.  The post has been edited so that it no longer contains the incorrect information.

By Elaine Korry

Maria Ramirez began caring for her granddaughter when the girl was just a toddler. Her granddaughter began hurting herself — cutting her arms and swallowing things — before she was 10. Soon, says Ramirez, she couldn’t let the girl out of her sight. “She was running in front of cars, just really impulsive,” says Ramirez. “It was out of control, and I was really scared.”

Ramirez has a job and health insurance, so she did what any parent or guardian would do: she took her granddaughter to her local hospital for treatment. But instead of finding help, she always got the same reply, “No beds, no beds.”

Ramirez, a Bay Area artist who loves gardening, says she knew early on that her granddaughter was going to need help. “She was a hard child to make smile. She was very serious,” says Ramirez. Continue reading

Sharp Drop in Psychiatric Beds Leaves Severely Mentally Ill With Few Places to Go

Carole Ford (Elaine Korry/KQED)

Carole Ford of Lakeport, seen here in front of the community health center she runs, was often taken to hospitals far from her Lakeport home to treat her mental illness. (Elaine Korry/KQED)

By Elaine Korry

In  the small town of Clearlake, about a hundred miles north of San Francisco, Carole Ford, a great-grandmother with a mane of silver-gray hair, runs a community mental health center called The Bridge. She leads support groups and prepares meals for her mostly homeless clients. It’s hardly glamorous work, but Ford says this is her dream job. “I know that I’m where I’m supposed to be — and doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” she says.

Employees had to scour the state, looking for a vacant psychiatric bed. “Then it’s another 2 to 3 hour drive.”

But Ford, 71, hasn’t always been so content. She had a traumatic childhood and many bouts of depression. As a younger adult adult she often felt suicidal. She recalls being dragged away to the hospital in Lake County, where she says she felt like she was dumped. There was no psychiatrist or therapist; no peer support or services of any kind. Continue reading

How Many Die From Medical Mistakes In U.S. Hospitals?

An updated estimate says at least 210,000 patients die from medical mistakes in U.S. hospitals a year. (Getty Images)

An updated estimate says at least 210,000 patients die from medical mistakes in U.S. hospitals a year. (Getty Images)

By Marshall Allen, Pro Publica

It seems that every time researchers estimate how often a medical mistake contributes to a hospital patient’s death, the numbers come out worse.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published the famous “To Err Is Human” report, which dropped a bombshell on the medical community by reporting that up to 98,000 people a year die because of mistakes in hospitals. The number was initially disputed, but is now widely accepted by doctors and hospital officials — and quoted ubiquitously in the media.

In 2010, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services said that bad hospital care contributed to the deaths of 180,000 patients in Medicare alone in a given year.

Now comes a study in the current issue of the Journal of Patient Safety that says the numbers may be much higher — between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death.

That would make medical errors the third-leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease, which is the first, and cancer, which is second.

The new estimates were developed by John T. James, a toxicologist at NASA‘s space center in Houston who runs an advocacy organization called Patient Safety America. James has also written a book about the death of his 19-year-old son after what James maintains was negligent hospital care.

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A Dozen Hospitals Are Laying Off Staff and Blaming Obamacare; Don’t Believe Them

John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, part of John Muir Health, which recently announced voluntary buyouts ahead of full implementation of the Affordable Care Act. (cseeman/Flickr)

John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, part of John Muir Health, which recently announced voluntary buyouts ahead of full implementation of the Affordable Care Act. (cseeman/Flickr)

By Dan Diamond, California Healthline‘s Road to Reform

Hospitals tend to be among the largest employers in their communities — which means that any individual decision to lay off staff can have an outsized local impact. And taken together, a dozen recent announcements seem to paint an especially dire picture for hospitals (and their communities) around the nation.

In Contra Costa County John Muir Health is offering staff voluntary buyouts ahead of ACA implementation. “We’re being paid less, and we either stick our head in the sand or make changes for the future so patients can continue to access us for their care,” according to John Muir spokesperson Ben Drew.

The ACA is just one factor affecting hospital finances, and its impact isn’t consistently negative for providers.
NorthShore in Illinois says it will lay off 1 percent of its workforce. The staffing cuts “ensure NorthShore remains well positioned to deal with the unprecedented changes brought on by the Affordable Care Act,” according to a memo from the health system’s chief human resources executive.

When Obamacare was being debated in Congress, its opponents tried to tar it with a deadly label: “the job-killing health law.” So is the ACA finally living down to its sobriquet? Continue reading

How Hospitals Can Be More Green

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Ryder Diaz

Kaiser Permanente wants to know what’s lurking in their hospitals’ mattresses. Mattresses are often treated with brominated flame retardants. And these chemicals usually don’t stay put. They leak into the air or cling to specks of dust and enter our bodies.

“Flame retardants can be quite toxic. They accumulate in the environment and in our fat cells,” said Kathy Gerwig, vice president and environmental stewardship officer at Kaiser.

Certain beds may contain vinyl or other plastics that when produced or destroyed can release toxins into the environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing the safety of these chemicals, which have been linked to increased cancer risk and other health issues.

Gerwig’s team is trying to figure out what’s in their stock. If they prove to be harmful, swapping out hospital beds is bound to be a big undertaking. “We have a lot of mattress,” she said. But if necessary, it’s a task Gerwig would embrace.

Kaiser hospitals are among more than 100 private and public hospitals in California that are moving toward more sustainable practices for their facilities, said Laura Wenger, executive director of Practice Greenhealth. Continue reading

Doing Things Right: Why Three Hospitals Didn’t Hurt My Wife

Michael Millenson and his wife, Susan. (Photo: Michael Millenson)

Michael Millenson and his wife, Susan. (Photo: Michael Millenson)

By: Michael Millenson

My wife was lying in the back of an ambulance, dazed and bloody, while I sat in the front, distraught and distracted. We had been bicycling in a quiet neighborhood in southern Maine when she hit the handbrakes too hard and catapulted over the handlebars, turning our first day of vacation into a race to the nearest hospital.

The anxiety when a loved one is injured is compounded when you know just how risky making things better can get. As a long-time advocate for patient safety, my interest in the topic has always been passionate, but never personal. Now, as Susan was being rushed into the emergency room, I wanted to keep it that way. “Wife of patient safety expert is victim” was a headline I deeply hoped to avoid.

“Wife of patient safety expert is victim” was a headline I deeply hoped to avoid.
In the weeks after the accident, we spent time at a 50-bed hospital in Maine; a Boston teaching hospital where Susan was transferred with a small vertebra fracture at the base of her neck and broken bones in her left elbow and hand; and a large community hospital near our suburban Chicago home. There were plenty of opportunities for bad things to happen — but nothing did. As far as I could tell, we didn’t even experience any near misses.

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Are CA Hospital Report Cards Going Away?

By: Sarah Varney

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes KQED, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

(Ryan Ozawa: Flickr)

(Ryan Ozawa: Flickr)

On the Cal Hospital Compare website, conscientious consumers in California can look up scorecards for their local hospitals. How well does the hospital control infections? How often do patients die from complications that can be treated? How satisfied are most patients with their experience?

Most major hospitals in California give the data voluntarily to independent researchers who analyze and publish consumer-friendly reports.

The project was considered a pioneering effort when it started in 2004, but Jan Emerson-Shea, a spokesperson for the California Hospital Association, says the report cards have outlived their usefulness. “Today there are numerous places consumers can get information on the quality of care delivered by hospitals,” Emerson-Shea says. “Public reporting has very much come of age at this point in time.”

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