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My Turn: There’s more to be done to prevent another hospital tragedy

Laws requiring states to share information and for drug testing are sorely needed, and I applaud the Legislature for its rapid and reasonable response to the hepatitis C outbreak linked to a worker at Exeter Hospital. The Monitor’s Aug. 16 editorial, “Preventing future drug tragedies,” is on point. But there is more.

Hospital administrators should encourage, rather than discourage, reports of malfeasance. They should listen to reports of drug diversion. They should not punish those who report inadequacies, such as incompetent surgeons who are allowed to perform procedures with no training and little supervision. Also, the buck stops at the top. Any administrator who sets a malignant, vile, malicious and negative tone vis a vis quality improvement should not only be terminated, but also be personally subject to civil and criminal liability. They should not be allowed to cower behind the shield of hospital attorneys. The solution is justice, not a slick advertising campaign. The truth usually finds sunshine.

A bank has cash, in the same way hospitals have drugs. A bank does not leave the cash out in the open, unguarded, without adequate controls, for someone to steal.

Drug testing of technicians is only one little facet of the story. The Legislature can pass several other laws that should not be necessary but unfortunately are:

∎ No financial settlement with a patient should involve a gag order. Otherwise how do we learn from mistakes if they are hidden from the press and the authorities?

∎ Hospital trustees and administrators should be held criminally liable if they ignore or, worse, hide information that would prevent another disaster or eliminate an ongoing tragedy.

∎ Any nurse, technician or physician who reports quality issues should be legally protected against reprisals. This is especially true now that physicians are “at will” hospital employees, subject to immediate termination and long-term restrictions imposed by their employers. Gov. Maggie Hassan, at a town meeting in Exeter, stated that she would support this concept. I applaud her integrity. I truly hope that the FBI and the U.S. attorney do not stop with the imprisonment of David Kwiatkowski. A comprehensive investigation of the Exeter Hospital disaster, from the top down, is mandatory.

Patients are owed nothing less. The public needs to let legislators, the federal judge and the U.S. attorney know that they will accept nothing less.

Exeter Hospital is not a building or one individual. It is a collaboration of outstanding physicians, nurses, techs and hundreds of other loyal, conscientious employees providing excellent care in the great majority of cases. The nursing staff has been awarded “Magnet Status,” an incredible honor achieved by the nurses themselves.

As has happened at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute recently, even the finest hospitals need an intervention when a preventable disaster strikes. As Charles de Gaulle once said, “Cemeteries are full of irreplaceable men.”

(Dr. Alain Ades lives in New Castle.)

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