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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.

At Some Texas Schools, Student Athletes Lack Crucial Catastrophic Care Insurance

High school sports, especially football, are a hallowed tradition in Texas. School districts in the state regularly set aside significant portions of their budgets for athletic programs.

Government purse strings may be loose for the sports programs themselves, but spending on medical insurance for student athletes is checkered at best in some of Texas’ metropolitan regions.

The risk of injury, including catastrophic injury, always hangs over high school sports events, particularly the rougher contact sports (including football). Many school districts provide catastrophic care insurance for students who experience serious accidents or illnesses while competing in school-sponsored sports. Policies typically carry high coverage ceilings in the millions of dollars to cover such life-changing events as brain or spinal cord injuries.

But catastrophic care insurance is not mandatory in Texas. Within the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan region, there are five school districts that do not provide coverage for catastrophic injury: Birdville, Burleson, Cedar Hill, Mansfield and Richardson.

When students do not have catastrophic coverage through their family insurance policies, the lack of a school district’s safety net can prove financially ruinous. Medical costs for the families of student athletes who suffer major injuries while competing can be staggering. With some school athletic program officials estimating that up to 65 percent of Dallas’ student athletes lack family health insurance, the ability to fall back on school-district-provided insurance can be crucial.

In the United States, there have been 468 nonfatal injuries that resulted in permanent, severe functional disability of high school athletes between 1982 and 2011. While catastrophic high school sports injuries are uncommon, the costs associated with them are enormous.

As an example, it has been estimated that the first-year cost of care for a patient with partial or total loss of the use of all limbs stands at $1,044,197. The cost of care for subsequent years rises by $181,328 annually.

By comparison, the cost of catastrophic care coverage is extremely small. Some insurance agents peg the cost of a policy at no more than $2,000 per year for the average school district.

“It’s incredible how many Texas kids have no insurance,” said Kent Holbert, an insurance agent for Texas Student Resources. “I certainly think [catastrophic care insurance] is a minute cost compared to some of the other budgetary items they have.”