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Avoidable Medical Complications Prompt Millions in Penalties Against Lee Memorial

The Fort Myers News-Press reports that Medicare is penalizing Lee Memorial Health System millions of dollars over the next 12 months because the hospital’s rate of avoidable patient infections and other preventable issues is too high. hospital

The hospital system will not receive $2.4 million in Medicare payments in 2016 as a result of hospital-acquired infections, which include bloodstream infections, and also for problems with bedsores and falls.

According to Kaiser Health News, hospitals in Lee Memorial were among 721 punished by the federal government for high rates of patient injuries and infections. Some cases involved the most renowned hospitals in the country, including the Cleveland Clinic, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. In fact, 1 in every 7 hospitals nationally will have their Medicare payments reduced by 1 percent over the course of the 2016 fiscal year, which began in October. In total, 31 hospitals in Florida faced similar penalties.

However, four acute care hospitals in Naples, as well as the Lehigh Regional Medical Center in Lehigh Acres were not among those penalized.

This is the second time Medicare withheld payments from Lee Memorial Health System for its hospital-acquired infection rates. Last year, the federal government withheld $2.3 million from the system, which is among the largest employers in Lee County and sometimes the only health care option for those in the region.

In addition to the $2.4 million being withheld for patient illness and injuries, the federal government is also going to deny $2.8 million for hospital re-admissions. When a patient is discharged from a hospital, only to be re-admitted after a short amount of time with the same health concerns, it can be a reflection of inadequate care.

In total, the hospital system is going to be losing $5.2 million in federal funds for actions that could leave it susceptible to medical malpractice lawsuits. That’s an increase from the previous fiscal year, when the health care system lost $4.5 million in federal funds for the same reasons.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1 in 25 hospital patients suffer at least one health-care acquired infection, and about 75,000 of those died during their hospitalizations.

The penalties recently handed down by the federal government are harsher than any previous government effort to reduce patient harm. Technically, Medicare has the authority to expel any hospital from its program that has an especially high error rate. However, that’s almost never done because most hospitals rely hugely on Medicare payments. To cut them off would essentially be a death sentence.

But by imposing some penalty, the government is hoping to increase incentives to bolster patient quality of care.

Hospital officials have complained that these types of penalties don’t really help solve the underlying problems, and further that some hospitals get penalized for safety issues that they have actually improved year-over-year. Federal officials, however, counter that these issues are sometimes referred to as “never issues,” meaning they should never happen. So when they do, even once is too many. In these cases, only those hospitals in the top quarter of 1,400 for hospital injuries, illnesses and errors were penalized.

Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured – 1-800-646-1210.

Additional Resources:

Lee Memorial Penalized $2.4 Million for Safety Issues, Dec. 14, 2015, By Frank Gluck, News-Press.com

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Stahl v. Hialeah Hospital – Florida Workers’ Compensation System Challenged, Dec. 12, 2015, Fort Myers Medical Malpractice Attorney Blog