Losing Balance: How Hospitals are Endangering Patients’ Lives

Dec 28, 2022

Hospitals are Losing the Balance

We get it. Businesses must balance the need to make money with the desire to provide a quality product or service. Too much emphasis on one side of the scale leaves the other side lacking. If a business fails to make a profit for long enough, it goes out of business. Usually, the only harm is to the business’s owners or its investors. However, in the case of hospitals, which are businesses make no mistake about it, losing that balance can lead to disastrous outcomes for patients and the community. Despite this danger, we are seeing a disturbing trend of hospitals being more profit-driven rather than care-driven in their business models.

Ascension, one of the country’s largest health systems, is an example of just that. According to a recent New York Times series on non-profit hospitals (which are usually not actually non-profit as most of it would define that term), the Ascension management “spent years, prior to the pandemic, reducing its staffing levels in an effort to improve profitability, even though the chain is a nonprofit organization with nearly $18 billion of cash reserves. ”The truly sad part is that Ascension is far being the only hospital organization that is cutting services while at the same time amassing cash. The Times article details several other ‘non-profit’ hospitals across the country where staffing cuts created situations where the staffing was so inadequate that, as in the case of hospital in Washington State, “an overwhelmed nurse called 911 dispatchers, who sent the fire department to help care for patients.”

Now, about that ‘non-profit’ status. More than half of the hospitals in the United States are classified as non-profit which means they avoid paying taxes by offering services like free healthcare to low-income patients … or they used to. Instead, there has been a disturbing trend emerging where these hospitals are now actually profit-driven and allocate fewer and fewer resources to low-income patients while at the same time investing more in facilities located in more affluent areas. This is potentially devastating to low-income, and predominately minority neighborhoods. This is documented by extensive research that demonstrates, including data from the Dept. of Health and Human Services, that the infant mortality rate is twice as high for African American women as a direct result of lack of access to prenatal care.

…over 250,000 deaths occur in the United States each year due to medical errors.

How many people have suffered the loss of a family member because hospital executive management decided to put profits before patient care? A 2017 study (Anderson JG, Abrahamson K. Your Health Care May Kill You: Medical Errors. Stud Health Technol Inform. 2017;234:13-17. PMID: 28186008) revealed that over 250,000 deaths occur in the United States each year due to medical errors. That is higher than any other developed country. Even more concerning is that less than 10% of medical errors are even reported according to the study.

Profits Before Patients

Patient care – for the rich and the poor – has to be the first goal of America’s hospitals.  But, the facts show otherwise.  Indeed, Ascension is not alone in this drive to maximize profits even though it’s the poster child for it. The demand to cut costs became an obsession with upper management. “Their whole approach to the finances was right out of the Wall Street playbook,” one executive was quoted as saying. Despite publicly stating their cost-cutting measures were needed to ensure financial stability and serve the poor, the real goal was maximizing profits. After being investigated by an Attorney General for a mostly African American District in Washington, Ascension agreed to forgive $130 million in patient debt.  That sounds good until we learn that shortly thereafter it turned that full service hospital into an urgent care center with limited services. The patients got debt-relief but no longer had access to adequate healthcare thus defeating Ascension’s mission of serving the poor. This egregious behavior is more than wrong, it is costing people their lives.

Georgia Too?

The lawyers at Warshauer Woodward Atkins see how this drive for reduced staffing and increased profits is affecting health care and causing malpractice right here in Georgia. Patients, even at the “best” hospitals are not provided with adequate nursing care because there are too few nurses taking care of too many patients.  Hospitals advertise for profitable patients who discover after they arrive that the hospital has not spent the money to train its staff, or even have the staff at the hospital, to take care of the very problem the hospital advertised it could handle.  The results are too often bad outcomes and families who lose loved ones.  Hopefully, when hospitals learn that the cost of malpractice is more than the cost of good staffing, we’ll see changes to back to the days when a community hospital cared more about its community than its profits.

If you suspect that a family member died as the result of a medical error while in the hospital, there are several steps you can take:

1. Seek legal advice: You may want to consult with an attorney who has experience in medical malpractice cases. An attorney can help you understand your rights and options and can advise you on the best course of action.
2. Gather information: It will be helpful to gather as much information as possible about the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death. This may include medical records, witness statements, and any other relevant documentation.
3. Report the error: If you believe that a medical error contributed to your loved one’s death, it is important to report the error to the hospital or healthcare facility where the error occurred. Many hospitals have procedures in place for reporting and addressing medical errors.
4. File a complaint with regulatory agencies: You may be able to file a complaint with regulatory agencies such as the state medical board or the Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies healthcare organizations.
5. Consider a wrongful death lawsuit: If you believe that a medical error caused your loved one’s death, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital or healthcare facility. An attorney can help you understand the requirements and process for filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

It is important to keep in mind that every situation is different, and the best course of action will depend on the specific circumstances of your loved one’s death. It is always a good idea to seek legal advice if you have any concerns about a medical error.