Welcome to Easton (Pa.) Hospital's medical records nightmare: Dozens of confidential patient medical records were found swirling around a sidewalk in nearby Allentown, Pa., earlier this month, discovered by-of all people-employees of the local newspaper, The Morning Call.
The documents included original copies of patient electrocardiograms, laboratory reports and nursing-care reports. Patients' names, addresses, telephone numbers and even some Social Security numbers were on the papers. Hospital officials subsequently indicated that the documents had been removed from the hospital by a temporary employee-"in violation of strict and clear hospital policy and in violation of state and federal laws." They added that they intend to "aggressively pursue legal recourse against anyone involved in this event."
The unnamed woman reportedly told police she lost her grip on the records as she hurriedly exited a vehicle after an argument with the driver who was taking her to work, although that begged the question as to what she was doing with the records in the first place. She reportedly told police she took them home to sort them. Unbeknownst to her, hospital officials already had told her employer to stop assigning her to the hospital for "performance-related" reasons, a hospital spokeswoman says.
This is just the latest calamity to strike Easton Hospital. Up until June, the 233-bed facility was operating on a six-month provisional license for, among other things, improper emergency-room treatment, a lack of procedures for credentialing physicians and out-of-date drugs on crash carts, state health officials said. The full license has since been restored.
Easton was purchased last year by for-profit Community Health Systems, Brentwood, Tenn.
Get a job, get a mortgage
In their ongoing efforts to lure and hold onto valued staff, hospital executives are tapping into resources that will weave employees into their hospitals and into their communities by helping them become homeowners.
Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy, N.J., will offer 25 forgivable loans of $5,000 each that its employees can use toward a down payment on a house.
The 501-bed hospital's $125,000 pilot project, designed by Washington-based Fannie Mae, will save the hospital money in the long run by reducing employee turnover costs, says Jeff Winter, vice president of human resources.
To qualify for the program, employees must work full time and have been with the hospital for at least a year. After two more years of employment, the loans will be erased. Two banks, First Savings Bank in Woodbridge, N.J., and J.P. Morgan Chase and Co. in New York, will offer home-buying seminars and other mortgage assistance.
Fifteen of the 25 loans are slotted for hard-to-fill positions, such as nurses, pharmacists and lab technicians. Of the remaining loans, five are earmarked for full-time employees with family incomes of less than $64,650, and the rest will go to nonmanagement workers with family incomes of greater than $64,650.
The program is also a way of investing in the hospital's community. Employees in the program must buy a home within 10 miles of either hospital campus, in Perth Amboy or in Old Bridge, N.J. "We want to tie them to our community, because that's also a retention tool," Winter says.
An AMA thank you
Say what you will about the American Medical Association: When it wants to, it knows how to say thanks.
Eager to herald its first recent victory in a long, frustrating battle for tort reform, the AMA ran paid advertisements last week in Nevada's three biggest newspapers, expressing its gratitude to Gov. Kenny Guinn and the state Legislature for their "decisive action" in dealing with skyrocketing insurance costs for physicians.
"America's Physicians Say `Thank You' for Putting Patients First!" the ad reads. It ran in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Las Vegas Sun and the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Earlier this month, Guinn, a Republican, signed a law limiting non-economic damages to $350,000 in medical malpractice cases as a way to help reduce runaway insurance costs for physicians. The action was spurred in part by the closing of the state's only Level I trauma center for 10 days in early July when 58 orthopedic surgeons walked off the job, complaining about the threat of liability.
For the AMA, Nevada's new law is the first high-profile victory in its effort to persuade other states and Congress to place limits on pain-and-suffering awards in medical malpractice lawsuits.
Most hospitals build garages when they need more parking. Lodi (Ohio) Community Hospital built a horse shelter.
The hospital, Ohio's smallest with just 25 beds, has had hitching posts for years so Amish patients-who for religious reasons shun modern conveniences such as cars-have a place to tie up their horses. The posts were removed when the parking lot was repaved and a helicopter pad was added during a hospital renovation. That left only light poles as a place to tether horses. Some Amish patients had expressed a need to have a place to keep their equine transportation out of the elements while visiting the facility. The hospital paid Amish workers $500 to build a 12-by-14-foot horse shelter. It can hold three horses or a horse and buggy.
"I think a lot of times, the Amish people think they're looked down upon," says Jeffrey Burkey, a physician at Lodi Family Practice on the hospital campus, 26 miles west of Akron. "This allows them to feel a little more comfortable."