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USA Today asks "Where is the outrage over 500 preventable deaths in US hospitals each day?"

In an editorial on November 19, USA Today pointed to the statistics confirming 500 daily preventable deaths from so-called "adverse events" among hospitalized U.S. patients and asked, rhetorically, "where is the outrage?"  It noted that if a jumbo jet crashed daily causing the same carnage, there would be a national uproar over airline industry safety.

The newspaper pointed to the 1999 report confirming 98,000 deaths in hospitals, annually, from medical errors, confirmed this year by a Department of Health and Human Services survey demonstrating that 1 in 7 hospitalized Medicare patients suffers a serious "medical mishap," contributing to 180,000 deaths each year.  The DHHS study pointed out that about half of these deaths are caused by errors that could be "caught" and circumvented.  The errors also result in estimated additional medical expense to taxpayers of $4 billion dollars per year.

The article also notes several efforts to promote mandatory, simple procedures or standards that would prevent negligent deaths.  Some of the simplest of these procedures have been initiated by the University of Michigan in a broad study of smaller Michigan hospitals that demonstrated immediate, significant effect in reducing errors and deaths.  Unfortunately, in the current political climate, our elected representatives are bowing to special interests to address the problem in a different manner.  Currently pending in the Michigan Legislature, for example, is a bill that would make hospitals, doctors and employees immune from negligence in their treatment of patients admitted through the Emergency Room.  A doctor, nurse, pharmacist or tech would be exempt from the duty to provide "due" or "reasonable" care: an injured patient would have to establish "gross negligence" to hold the hospital or care providers responsible for mistakes that caused death or serious injury.  In other words,"if you won't avoid hurting 'em, at least avoid paying 'em."

Sadly, this is simply a sign of the times.  Money has so flooded politics that decisions made by our government don't reflect reasoned responses to genuine issues; rather, they reflect special privileges accorded to groups and entities who possess the financial wherewithal to trade campaign support for legislative and judicial protection.  And don't think for a moment that they represent a response to "frivolous cases" or necessary "tort reform:"  Michigan adopted the most extensive "reforms" in the nation during the 80s and 90s, including caps, expensive special procedural requirements, shortened statutes of limitation and a number of other special protections for medical providers.  The number of malpractice cases filed annually in Michigan is diminished far below the level of the 1970s and 1980s, and the dollars recovered by malpractice victims remain extremely low. 

"Reforms" in Michigan today are simply "gifts" to powerful economic groups at the expense of the health and welfare of ordinary people.  They happen because the electorate doesn't see the reality of the collective numbers, and their elected representatives bow to money and not to sound public policy.  We get the government we "buy" and unfortunately, the people with money to spend are more interested in protecting turf than in dispensing justice.


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