Examining Difficulties In Closing Hospitals Providing Substandard Care

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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The New York Times on Monday examined "how hard it can be ... to close or shrink hospitals, even when there is evidence they are providing costly and below-average care."

According to the Times, the U.S. does not have a federal agency that provides oversight of hospitals, but rather "relies on a patchwork of state health departments" and the Joint Commission to certify that hospitals are operating safely and following national standards set by the commission. However, the commission "lacks the heft and enforcement powers of a federal regulator," and as a result, "[h]ospitals are rarely closed or hit with significant financial penalties for hurting patients," the Times reports.

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In addition, local hospitals typically are large employers and "communities rally behind them when they face the threat of cuts," according to the Times.

The Times profiled State University of New York's University Hospital, which is ranked by HealthGrades among the least safe hospitals in the country. The hospital-ranking Web site also says, among other deficiencies, University Hospital has a higher percentage of certain hospital-acquired infections and patients face a greater chance of dying of pneumonia compared with other state hospitals. The hospital also has faced a number of malpractice lawsuits.

A state panel in 2006 had recommended University Hospital, along with 50 other hospitals, be downsized or merged because of problems and said that nine state hospitals should be shut down. However, lobbying efforts by affected hospitals and universities prompted a reversal of the recommendation. University Hospital officials dispute the HealthGrades ranking and disagree with other negative findings, noting that the hospital has above-average outcomes in some areas (Berenson, New York Times, 12/8).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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