It is well established that between 210,000 to 440,000 people needlessly die each year from medical negligence. That makes medical errors the third leading cause of death in our country. Healthcare providers, however, have failed to treat this as an urgent problem and have refused to take steps to lower the mortality rate. On Tuesday, a baby died while undergoing heart surgery at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Florida, making her the ninth infant to pass away after such a procedure in just the last 3 years at that one hospital. That accounts for the heart surgery program at St. Mary’s having a 12.5% mortality rate for open heart surgery, which is more than three times the national average.
What’s worse? The hospital refuses to acknowledge or address the problem. Rather than admitting they have a patient safety epidemic, the hospital and its parent company simply attacked media outlets for allegedly misrepresenting the mortality rate. Attacks on the media, rather than attacks on the problem itself, do not prevent innocent babies from dying. The care is apparently so bad that Dr. Jeffrey Jacobs, the head of a panel of experts that was sent to review the heart surgery program at the hospital (and a professor of cardiac surgery at Johns Hopkins), suggested the hospital stop performing heart surgeries on babies younger than 6 months due to their inexperience.
Medical malpractice, including surgical errors on babies, is a growing problem that needs the public’s attention. Instead, state legislators and insurance companies have worked hard to protect and immunize doctors and hospitals from being accountable for their conduct. Protecting billion dollar corporations from being responsible for the preventable death of a baby is not the answer.