No one goes to the hospital expecting to become sicker than they were when they entered. However, for thousands of patients in New York and throughout the country, hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) extend their stay and make their recovery considerably more difficult.
Federal officials are cracking down on those hospitals that put their patients at risk of HAIs – and expose themselves to liability in hospital malpractice lawsuits – by withholding portions of their Medicare payments until they can clean up the situation.
According to Kaiser Health News, those penalized amount to about a quarter of the nation’s hospitals. They will lose 1 percent of every Medicare payment for one year beginning in October. Eight of those hospitals are located in New York State.
Facilities Identified in Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program
In April, federal officials outlined the hospitals they expect to be penalized. The list is tentative, but following preliminary analysis, the eight facilities from New York State are:
- Brookdale Hospital Medical Center, Brooklyn
- Crouse Hospital, Syracuse
- Kings County Hospital, Brooklyn
- Lenox Hill Hospital, New York
- Massena Memorial Hospital, Massena
- Mount St. Mary’s Hospital and Health Center, Lewiston
- Mount Vernon Hospital, Mount Vernon
- St. James Mercy Hospital, Hornell.
The penalties are part of the “third leg” of Medicare’s pay-for-performance programs, which are designed to reward those hospitals that do well in terms of patient safety and penalize those that do not.
The Hospital-Acquired Condition (HAC) Reduction Program began by penalizing those facilities that had high readmission rates. Then, bonuses and penalties were assigned based on 24 quality measures. Both of these programs are in their second year. When the new penalties are added, some hospitals could be at risk of losing more than five percent of their total Medicare payments.
The Problem with Hospital-Acquired Infections
Hospital-acquired infections often are transmitted through IV lines and catheters. They may be transmitted through the air as well.
The number of HAIs across the nation is dropping. But they are not falling fast enough to meet standards set by the government. Furthermore, antibiotic-resistant strains of HAIs are simply hard to fight.
In 2012, an estimated one in eight hospital patients suffered a preventable complication—many of them HAIs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 25 patients suffers from an HAI on any given day. These infections and related complications cost the healthcare industry billions and cost many patients their lives.
Critics Say Medicare Analysis is Flawed
Many of the hospitals listed on the tentative Medicare penalty roster say they are being singled out not because they are dangerous for patient treatment but because they are doing more to identify and root out the problems that exist, according to Kaiser.
Teaching hospitals account for a disproportionate number of those marked for penalties. Fifty-four percent of these hospitals have been identified. But these are some of the largest and most elite facilities, and their supporters say they are listed because they have looked harder to identify and actually prevent HAIs.
On the other hand, any measure that is aimed at increasing patient safety should be applauded. When patients are at risk of dying from infections they acquired when they were supposed to be getting well, accountability is a must.