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Washington Rally for Patient Safety Attracts Senators and Reps, but No Industry Heavyweights

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The big nurses’ rally by National Nurses United in Washington on 12 May 2010 means a lot. The extraordinary, almost surreal situation in which nurses have to take to the streets to push for patient safety is based largely on the fact that large numbers of people with six figure jobs can’t be bothered to do those jobs. That’s across the board, from licensing authorities to state governments to Washington.

The sheer insanity of this situation is lost on nobody but the people supposed to be running and regulating the health care industry. Endless streams of cases appear in the headlines on a daily basis, and patient safety is always front and center of each case. There’s now legislation before Congress to improve patient safety standards. It’s only about 30 years overdue, but at least it’s got there.

Exactly why this issue needs to be raised is a question which may never be answered. Most people in most professions are aware of their obligations. Those providing emergency services are well aware of their responsibilities. If an entire sector won’t do its job, you’d think someone might deign to notice.

But not in the health sector. The equivalent of twenty Iraq wars per year, in terms of patient fatalities and preventable deaths continues serenely on, while hospital management (for want of a better publishable term), finds “savings.”

Not savings in lives, not savings in pain and suffering, but savings in terms of nurses’ pensions, benefits, contract terms, downsizing, restructuring, and other employment issues.

Not savings in terms of getting their own overheads under control for things like equipment, and paying rational prices themselves.

Not savings in cutting down on the number of lawyers required to deal with each case of maladministration, and not savings on consultants by coming up with organization structures which actually work.

Quite the opposite. The most expensive approach seems to be always the preferred option. Like the rest of corporate America, health sector management is on extended holiday, and playing with your budget–however ineptly–is a status symbol. You wouldn’t hire a junior assistant janitor on these terms, but in the health sector it’s no problem–bring a hammock and a straw hat and you’ll fit right in to a vibrant management culture.

The Washington rally happens to relate to the biggest RN union in the US, National Nurses United. Why the union is doing the regulator’s jobs is another issue, but at least some of the Senators and Reps showed up to give support. Not, however, the health sector heavies, who apparently have better things to do with their time than waste it on strenuous things like a 4 minute speech or a press release. Why address issues, when you can catch up on your golf? Why pretend to be interested now? It’s all part of an enchanting panorama of failure.

Nurses are raising major issues on a daily basis. They’re obviously talking to the selectively deaf and pointing things out to the selectively blind. This sector, like the finance sector, is totally insular. It’s a freeloader’s paradise, where everything takes forever, if it gets done at all. Bureaucracy and the “go slow” approach to reform does the rest.

This process is filling graveyards regularly. I recently received some information about a lady who ran out of money, was pushed out of the hospital, went home from the hospital and died. Was she offered outpatient care, fee scheduling or anything else resembling a competent medical or administrative approach? No, of course not.

This is a health system? Since when?

Paul Wallis
About Paul Wallis

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