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Care Needed: Texas Hospital Safety Fluctuates Dramatically by Institution

Preventable medical complications acquired at the hospital have become all too familiar in American life. In Texas, the truth about complications is, well, even more complicated. 

In Maine, a high-performing state, most hospitals – more than 70 percent – perform at the highest levels of safety. But in Texas, only 28 percent of hospitals perform that well, according to a national panel of hospital safety experts.

A major new study from the Dallas Morning News confirms that in Texas, preventable complication rates vary widely from individual hospital to hospital.

The Texas Patient Safety Check revealed Dallas Regional Medical Center to have the safest record in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and the second safest in the state, with a low rate of preventable complications. Conversely, John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth ranked the lowest in the state. There, patients are almost four times as likely to experience a preventable complication than they are at Dallas Regional Medical Center.

The study also reports that when taken as a group, North Texas hospitals perform significantly worse in preventing complications than area hospitals in other parts of the state.

Preventable complications include bedsores, infections and falls.

Patient safety advocates insist that patients and their families can take steps to help prevent complications and medical errors. Initiatives like “Speak Up!” from The Joint Commission encourage patients to pay attention to the medical care that they receive.

Patients are advised to keep track of the dosage of and timing of medication, to ensure that members of the medical staff wash their hands before treatment and to speak up when something does not seem right.

Concerned health care consumers can refer to the Texas Patient Safety Check through the Dallas Morning News. Additionally, the publication offers a Hospital Safety Check, a searchable online tool acclaimed by the Wall Street Journal for its safety ratings of hospitals nationwide.

Troubling News Emerges from 2013’s West Fertilizer Plant Explosion

Although it has been over a year since the explosion at the West Fertilizer Company killed 15, new reports on the tragedy are still surfacing.

In the first official public health report, county officials have indicated that injuries were more severe than previously known. The report also suggests that many injuries may have been missed in the initial chaos following the explosion.

This new report, issued by the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, finds that more than one in five of those injured by the explosion experienced traumatic brain injury (TBI) or concussion.

The report also states “some injuries, particularly ear injuries as well as traumatic brain injury, may not have been identified at the time of medical treatment immediately after the explosion,” indicating that many of the injured may have left the hospital without proper treatment or instructions.

Ear injuries affected more than 10 percent of the injured.

Reese Dunklin of the Dallas Morning News has been reporting on a second issue: the latest moves by the Texas Department of State Health Services to keep basic information about chemical storage facilities away from the public.

In early July, the office of the Texas Attorney General informed reporters at the Dallas Morning News that the Department of State Health Services would no longer release information about chemical inventories to the public.

In a letter, the Attorney General stated that the decision was based on Texas Homeland Security statutes. Several federal agencies have spoken out against the withholding of information about potential chemical hazards.

In April of 2014, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board concluded that a lack of community awareness of the chemical hazard at the West facility contributed to the disaster. No emergency response plan was in place at the time of the explosion. 

In the last few weeks, a new federal task force has publicly called for increased release of information about large chemical inventories. Such information would make it possible for local citizens and businesses to make effective emergency response plans based on real knowledge of the risks that surround them.