Local health care providers pledge support to reduce hospital infections and errors

Posted June 13, 2011, at 5:55 p.m.
Last modified June 14, 2011, at 10:49 a.m.
Michelle Hood, CEO and Pres of Eastern Maine Healthcare, moderates a forum discussing a partnership with the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services to improve patient care in area medical facilities. Photo taken in Brewer on Monday, June 13, 2011.
Michael C. York
Michelle Hood, CEO and Pres of Eastern Maine Healthcare, moderates a forum discussing a partnership with the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services to improve patient care in area medical facilities. Photo taken in Brewer on Monday, June 13, 2011.

BREWER, Maine — Despite widespread concern about the cost and quality of health care in the United States, the incidence of hospital-acquired infections, errors, accidents and other costly complications continues to grow. In addition, patients transitioning from hospital to home often suffer preventable relapses and are rehospitalized.

On Monday, federal health officials were in Brewer to announce a new partnership aimed at reversing these trends.  The “Partnership for Patients: Better Care, Lower Costs” initiative seeks the voluntary participation of all players in the health care system including doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, home-care organizations, outpatient clinics, insurance companies, state and federal agencies and patients.

According to national statistics, one of every three patients admitted to a hospital suffers from a medical error or other accident during that hospitalization. On any given day, one in 20 patients develops an infection related to hospital care.

And, on average, one of every seven patients in the taxpayer funded Medicare program is harmed in the course of receiving care, costing the federal program an estimated $4.4 billion each year. Nearly one in five Medicare patients discharged from a hospital will be readmitted within 30 days.

By identifying, sharing and adhering to practices that enhance health, improve medical care, and protect patient safety, supporters of the plan hope to create measurable savings and improve the health of individuals and populations. The Department of Health and Human Services will provide up to $1 billion over the next 10 years to help participants develop effective strategies to improve care and lower costs.

New England has a long tradition of leadership and innovation in health care, said Christie Hager, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Boston, speaking to a gathering of health care providers and administrators at the Whiting Hill headquarters of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems.

Many health care organizations already are engaged in efforts to improve quality and reduce costs, she said, but are not sharing their resources or findings. The new partnership is intended to promote that sharing, she said, and to increase transparency and accountability in the health care system.

“You are no longer in it alone,” she told providers and administrators at the Whiting Hill event. “You … and your patients deserve a better system.” In partnership with the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs, the U.S. HHS will provide grants to help providers improve care and reduce costs, she said.

So far, about 20 Maine organizations — including Saint Joseph Healthcare, Penobscot Community Health Care and Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor — have pledged to support the partnership.

Dr. Erik Steele, chief medical officer for Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, said that organization already has implemented a number of strategies targeting a “zero defects” goal. Those strategies include checklists of steps to reduce the risk of potentially deadly infections associated with mechanical ventilators and intravenous lines as well as steps to identify and treat those patients most at risk for developing blood clots.

Dr. Susan Kearing of Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington said “elective deliveries” of babies under 39 weeks of gestation sometimes are planned for the convenience of doctors or patients. The practice has become accepted, she said, but studies show it is associated with high rates of newborn respiratory problems or other complications of preterm delivery. By presenting scientific data and educating doctors and patients, she said, the hospital has significantly reduced the rate of preterm deliveries.

Sister Mary Norberta, president and CEO of St. Joseph Healthcare in Bangor, said the organization has devoted considerable resources to improving the delivery of home-care services, investing in digital equipment that allows home-based patients to share their weight, blood pressure and other information with nurses and physicians by computer.

Kevin Lewis of the Maine Primary Care Association said outpatients are working to standardize the care of chronic illnesses, to check in with patients within 24 hours after they are discharged from a hospital, and to expand the use of electronic medical records.

More information about the Partnership for Patients, including the list of participating organizations, is available online at  partnershippledge.healthcare.gov.

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