Some Pennsylvania hospital workers are heading back to school-elementary school. No, they don't need remedial education. They are going to local schools to recruit students for careers in the healthcare industry.
Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, recently invited 15 juniors and seniors from North Catholic High School to spend a day at the hospital where they learned about working in the trenches. They visited the emergency and radiology departments and rehabilitation and cardiac-care units.
The University of Pennsylvania Medical Center is sending recruiters to elementary schools to pitch the benefits of nursing careers. Younger students who are interested in healthcare careers can begin taking the appropriate academic courses sooner.
It is the latest tactic hospitals are using to solve the workforce shortage, which is expected to get worse before getting better, especially in nursing, says Sherri Hartwick, a nurse educator at Allegheny General.
"We thought just going into the school was not enough," she says. "We gave them some hands-on experience."
By bringing students to the 456-bed hospital, administrators are hoping they will become interested in healthcare careers before they attend college. They are also hoping the students will spread the word to their friends, which will lead to more workers in the future. In southwest Pennsylvania, about 10% of nursing jobs are vacant.
"We are hoping for a payoff," Hartwick says. "We hope it will generate interest. All of healthcare can use a boost in recruiting."
Tilting at windmills
A group of environmental activists has run into a green wall in leading the charge against a chemical used in making gloves, catheters and syringes that the group says is toxic to people and the ecosystem.
Health Care Without Harm, a Washington-based coalition backing environmentally responsible healthcare, has been pushing for regulatory labeling of the chemical, Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, or DEHP. But recent draft guidelines issued by the Food and Drug Administration fall far short of a regulatory stance-with "suggestions" for reducing risks that "may be associated" with DEHP. The report cites laboratory studies that link the substance with reproductive damage in young male animals but makes it clear DEHP's long-term effects on the human body are unknown.
A couple of years ago, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer downgraded DEHP as "not classifiable as to carcinogenicity to humans."
Even the nation's "family doctor," C. Everett Koop, M.D., took a swipe at the group in a piece in the Wall Street Journal, calling efforts to ban DEHP the "latest phony chemical scare."
Outliers dropped by "CleanMed," Health Care Without Harm's second-annual meeting, in Chicago late last month. The group, whose 373 members include the American Medical Students Association, the American Nurses Association and Catholic Healthcare West, knows it's in a tough spot. Although it is pushing hospitals to consider alternative products that don't contain DEHP or a similar compound, PVC, members at the meeting were pessimistic that the healthcare industry or the FDA will clean up their acts on the issue.
"Like all regulatory agencies, the FDA is politicized, and there's a lot of pressure (from medical device manufacturers) not to alter the status quo without conclusive evidence of harm," says Ted Schettler, M.D., science director at the Science and Environmental Health Network, a member organization of Health Care Without Harm.
Even more Haggard now
Country music legend Merle Haggard believes he may have been one of the patients who received unnecessary procedures at a Redding hospital that was raided by FBI agents last week.
Federal authorities are investigating whether two physicians, Chae Hyun Moon, director of cardiology at Redding (Calif.) Medical Center, and Fidel Realyvasquez Jr., chairman of the center's cardiac-surgery program, ordered costly surgeries for healthy patients and then billed Medicare (Nov. 4, p. 5). The 188-bed facility is owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp. Neither of the physicians has been charged, and Tenet is not a target of the investigation.
Haggard, 65, said he had a pair of heart stents put in by Moon and was suspicious of the operation at the time, he told the Los Angeles Times. "I suspected when it was done to me that I didn't need" an operation, he said. "The whole thing has made me mad. I'm just waiting here for the FBI to contact me."
The annals of wrong-site surgery
Officials at 621-bed OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City have been tight-lipped after the nation's latest high-profile medical error, OU's botched operation on a local high-school basketball star.
Hospital officials admit doctors operated on Keith Smith's healthy foot, but they refuse to confirm or deny specifics of the case that already have been made public, except to say they're "investigating the unfortunate situation" and that they've "offered assistance to the family, and (the family has) declined." The 17-year-old patient was set for an operation on a bone in his left heel but woke up to find his right heel bandaged.
The patient's mother, Michelle Smith, is a registered nurse at University Physicians Medical Group, the physician practice group of the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. OU is a for-profit hospital that is not affiliated with the University of Oklahoma.
The mistake was especially poorly timed: Keith Smith was set to sign a national letter of intent this week to play ball next year for the University of Colorado.