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OpinionEditorial

A good way to ensure patient safety

Emergency room sign.

Emergency room sign. Photo Credit: iStock

Ideally, people go to the hospital to get better. Unfortunately, sometimes hospitals make us worse. One of the best aspects of the Affordable Care Act is a provision that penalizes hospitals where too many patients contract preventable illnesses or suffer injuries because patient safety is poor. It's important that the hospitals are pushed to improve, and it's great the public is finding out which aren't up to snuff.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently said four Long Island hospitals scored low on patient safety measures. Three are members of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System: Plainview Hospital, Southside Hospital in Bay Shore and North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. Stony Brook University Hospital was also cited. All told, 41 hospitals in the state and 721 nationally were named. The criticism is that too many patients become infected or injured while in these hospitals. Examples include infections linked to tubing and catheters, broken bones resulting from falls and bed sores. The penalty is a 1 percent reduction in Medicare reimbursements for one year.

Some hospital administrators say the list unfairly targets facilities that admit the sickest patients, including teaching institutions. There's some truth to that, and hospitals perhaps ought to be grouped to compete with similar institutions or even graded on how much they improve on safety each year rather than just against a statistical target.

Regardless of how standards are set up, it's crucial that they exist, that the hospitals that fail to measure up are penalized and that the public knows which hospitals have patients with serious problems that could have been prevented. In the long run, for the hospitals that can't get it together, damaged reputations might hurt their finances far more than the government penalty.

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