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How You Can Help ProPublica Cover Patient Safety

More than 2,000 people — patients, doctors, nurses — have joined our Facebook group to debate causes and solutions to the problem of patients being harmed while receiving care.

(File, Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Among the more active members of our Facebook group on patient safety, Veronica James stands out.

She joined soon after we started the group in May and shared the story of her mother, who suffered a bedsore and had her breathing tube accidentally dislodged in a long-term acute-care hospital. James believes poor care contributed to her 90-year-old mother's death.

James uploaded the complaints she had filed with regulators, as well as their responses validating some of her concerns. She urged others to sign a petition against gag orders that medical providers sometimes negotiate when settling with patients who have been harmed. And she's posted dozens of comments, asking questions and offering advice and encouragement to others in the group.

James, an actress from Paramus, N.J., said she's found the Facebook group to be invaluable. "It gives a voice to patients who have been silenced for too long," she said.

Not everyone in the ProPublica Patient Harm Facebook Community has been as energetic as James. But the group — among our efforts to use social media in the service of journalism — has grown into a robust forum for discussion and learning for participants and reporters alike.

Our goal was to reach out and open a dialogue with patients who've been harmed while undergoing medical care. It's a major problem affecting more than 1 million patients a year, and although the health care system has moved to address the issue, results have been slow in coming.

We've also invited participation from doctors, nurses and other medical providers, many of whom have contributed comments and shared expertise. As of now, we're up to over 2,000 members in the Facebook group. 

Because many of the group's members, or their loved ones, have been harmed while undergoing medical care, the discussions cover sensitive topics and are often passionately delivered. (Some highlights are archived on ProPublica's patient safety page.)

James' mother, Vera Eliscu, died in August 2009, about seven months after being admitted to recover from pneumonia in a New Jersey long-term acute-care hospital. During her stay, her breathing tube was accidentally dislodged, which James said deprived her of oxygen for about 15 minutes, causing brain damage. Eliscu also did not receive appropriate care, regulators found, for a bedsore that developed into a large wound.

James said she signed, under protest, a gag clause as part of her settlement with the facility. Typically such clauses prevent a patient or patient's family from speaking out about harm they suffered. But James said she refuses to be bullied. She is now advocating for a law in New Jersey that would ban gag clauses. Her hopes were boosted when, on Dec. 17, another member of the Facebook group posted an article about a new law against gag clauses in California.

Patients who suffer harm face the same obstacles across the country, James said, and the Facebook group helps her keep tabs on what's happening elsewhere.

Anyone who's followed the Facebook group knows we promote our Patient Harm Questionnaire, which allows us to track patient stories in a more detailed manner. So far, we've had 264 people complete the survey. Although the sample is self-selected, the responses have been provocative:

  • The medical facility or provider responsible for the harm only disclosed it voluntarily in about one in 10 cases.
  • Only one out of 10 patients received an apology for the harm they suffered.
  • Some said they spent tens of thousands of dollars on bills related to the harm they suffered.

We've used some of the findings to inform our articles. And with the consent of respondents, we've also shared some survey results with other journalists and with academics who want to conduct research for publication in medical journals.

Medical providers are invited to complete the ProPublica Provider Questionnaire. We've had 53 respond so far, including 16 doctors, 13 nurses and a smattering of administrators, case managers, techs and more. They are sharing story ideas and issues of concern, and we plan to turn to them for expert advice as we investigate patient safety issues in 2014.

Arlene Sterne

Jan. 4, 2013, 1:06 p.m.

Brava Veronica. It is time for someone to speak up against gag orders.
I have not experienced anything quite like this, but I feel your pain and
wish that more of us have had the courage to take action against
medical “accidents” like your mother’s. My husband died because
a doctor refused to acknowledge that he had cancer, and I myself, against the doctor’s orders, drove him from Washington DC to Boston
to a famous clinic where they immediately diagnosed lung cancer which had already metastasized.
With affection and admiration. Arlene Sterne

I worked as an EMT for more than a decade. Nursing homes are the perfect example of malpractice. Understaffed and with nurses who don’t have any idea of what they are doing. It’s scary to see patients with 2 liters O2 on a non-rebreather mask, patients with nasal canulas fed by empty tanks, patients in positions that provoke choking, nurses calling EMS because respiratory levels are live threateningdue to the fact that they are clueless how to suction a tracheostomy tube, patients completely high due to excessive medication. Failing to notice signs of stroke. Every place we went, they tried to cover up what happened and everything happened 15 minutes ago or during someone else shift.Then we go to the state website and see these places getting positive rankings. Its so bad we used to call this places “dumpsters”, and the general opinion was they don’t really care because there are more people on the waiting list, so they will never lose money. It’s sad the situation this patients are forced to endure.

Joleen Chambers

Jan. 4, 2013, 5:36 p.m.

I encourage harmed patients & healthcare providers to “stalk” the ProPublica website.  As British author Catherine Aird said “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.” Accounts of patient harm reflect our culture and our humanity that will inform you so that you can avoid pitfalls and help others..  If we do not share them we cannot improve.  Those who would quash this information are self-serving and short-sighted.  Try as they may “they can’t stop the beat”!

Barry Schmittou

Jan. 4, 2013, 6:37 p.m.

Here’s evidence of insurance companies ignoring life threatening medical conditions when patients file claims in five types of insurance. You’ll also see they are rigging huge bids to increase sales of the policies and no one is being prosecuted !! This evidence has been filed under oath with the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight Committee. I also presented this evidence to Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn.and spoke one on one face to face with her. Many citizens and prominent regional business leaders have asked Blackburn and the Committee leaders to take action but they will do nothing about these deadly patterns of organized crimes being committed against very sick and dying Americans. I have placed the evidence online for citizens to view at : http://www.obamasdeadlycrimes.blogspot.com

Bruce Mitchell

Jan. 4, 2013, 8:40 p.m.

For many years I investigated medical malpractice cases, first for a defense law firm, later on behalf of plaintiffs. Working on the defense side was great experience, for I learned how the process works and how defensive strategy comes about. Many malpractice suits are not successful because often the mere fact that the outcome was poor does not automatically mean malpractice occurred. But, about ten percent of the cases were slam-dunk, where the malpractice was so obvious and so egregious that the doctor should have been stripped of license and prevented from ever treating any patient ever again. Yet this almost never happens. The common practice of the “gag rule” or confidentiality in settlement agreements preventing plaintiffs from ever revealing what happened to the patient — I think that’s got to go. It only serves the interests of physicians and hospitals seeking to keep the public from knowing the truth. Seems to me the public has a right to know if a medical practitioner lacks the skills or credibility necessary to inspire confidence in the care of patients. Anything less is unacceptable.

We walked away from our pre-trial medication/settlement that included a confidentiality agreement, i.e.,if we took the insurance’s money, we would not be allowed to talk to anyone about my Dad’s case anymore. The doctor’s gag order included prohibiting us from posting our story on the web site and talking to press, which shows he feared the most about publicizing the case. We said “No” to the doctor and we told him we wanted no money and would be willing to drop the case if he admitted his mistake. He refused.

I remember the day we walked away from the 5-hour medication, feeling sick to my stomach but proud that we did not give away my Dad’s rights, our rights and principles.

Veronica James

Jan. 5, 2013, 10:05 a.m.

Victims should never need to be faced with the unfair decision of having to CHOOSE between recovering losses and lawfully reporting errors, and that is what these harmful gag clauses reduce us to, after we’ve already been injured and suffered without reason! Negotiating with that corporation was like trying to negotiate with a brick wall—they just would not budge, although my attorney tried and tried, utilizing to all the info I sent to him on why it was illegal etc. The corporation in question are a truly evil company in every sense of the word, as they manipulate and twist the truth in an attempt to get away with murder! Fortunately, a law librarian at Rutgers University who I consulted on this dilemma suggested I add this Severability Clause: “If at any time any provision or provisions of this Agreement shall be held to be invalid, unenforceable, illegal, unconstitutional, or in conflict with the law of any jurisdiction, the validity, legality and enforceability of the remaining provisions shall not in any way be affected or impaired thereby.” This is very significant. I made this a condition that I would not sign unless THIS clause was included verbatim, and the corporation agreed at the eleventh hour. Now I am working on utilizing this clause to negate the gag clauses, which my attorney agreed was unreasonable.

Barry Schmittou

Jan. 5, 2013, 12:45 p.m.

Doctors paid by Network Medical Review all ignore the same medical evidence in reports that MetLife uses to deny claims. Here are quotes my doctor wrote regarding MetLife ignoring my eye cancer :

“It is my impression that three medical doctors paid by Metlife appeared to have ignored medical evidence. In treatment, In light of the violations Metlife has committed against Mr. Schmittou and Metlife’s awareness of the additional harm caused him, Metlife’s actions seem irresponsible, inhumane, dangerous, and reckless. I have conceptualized the severe and cumulative stress as traumatizing. Mr. Schmittou is in a desperate situation”.

After reading that another doctor from Network Medical Review and a doctor from MES Solutions also ignored medical evidence and made false statements in Court. The Obama administration and the Republican leaders don’t care.

Here’s part of the evidence you can see about MetLife at http://www.multipledeadlycrimes.blogspot.com Please remember multiple insurance companies are committing the exact same crimes in 5 types of insurance as seen at : http://www.obamasdeadlycrimes.blogspot.com

Quotes I compiled from 51 Federal Judges prove MetLife and doctors paid by MetLife ignore life threatening medical conditions including Multiple Sclerosis, cancer and cardiac conditions.

Judges also wrote MetLife fabricates pre-existing conditions, conceals medical documents from patients, trains agents to ignore evidence, and lies in Federal Court if the patient lives to get to Court.

Short example - U.S. Magistrate Judge Jennifer Guerm wrote :

“MetLife relied on clearly erroneous findings of fact in making its benefit determination. MetLife’s review of Plaintiff’s appeal consistently omitted or misrepresented relevant information in several ways.”

U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen wrote “MetLife and its henchmen” because MetLife also endangers many psychological patients.

**** I asked the Federal Court to stop this deadly crime pattern but U.S. Magistrate Judge Bryant in Nashville wrote:

“the enforcement of such provisions is the exclusive prerogative of the Attorney General”

Obama and the AG he appointed refuse to take action after receiving all this evidence multiple times via certified mailings to the White House, court documents, and personal visits to the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office !! They are very aware the patients can die during the years it takes their claim to be resolved by the Courts !!

MetLife also trains agents to ignore evidence!! U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet wrote :

“the appeals specialist assigned to decide Solomon’s appeal stated that she had been trained by MetLife to disregard SSA decisions”

Three 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judges wrote that MetLife fabricates pre existing conditions to illegally deny Long Term Care for very sick patients. The Judges’ wrote :

“MetLife supported its decision to rescind only by its cherry-picking symptoms from Conger’s medical records, and then reverse-engineering a diagnosis. Metlife ignored Conger’s multiple brain MRIs that revealed no problems”

Metlife also ignores MRI’s that prove patients do have brain problems as seen below !

U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Savage wrote that MetLife and their consultant Dr. Gary Greenhood ignored MRI’s that proved patient Jacquelyn Addis did have Multiple Sclerosis and brain lesions !!

Here’s an exact quote Judge Savage wrote about Greenhood :

“He also ignores the MRI reports evidencing MS, November 2, 2000, and December 9, 2003.”

Judge Savage also wrote that MetLife and Dr. Greenhood ignored sphincter incontinence, pain, nerve damage, trembling, stumbles and falls, and shaking in the upper and lower extremities !!

Here’s Dr. Greenhood again !!

U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland wrote that Metlife and the same Dr. Gary Greenhood ignored a foot that Ms. Joanne Vick broke in 5 places after she developed diabetic kytoacedosis following childbirth.

Here are two exact quotes Judge Cleland wrote in this case :

“Noticeably missing from Dr. Greenhood’s report is any mention of Dr. Al-Kassab’s November, 2001 office notes, Dr. Churchill’s November 13, 2001 office notes, and Dr. Churchill’s March 14, 2002 office notes. This is particularly significant in that Dr. Greenhood’s August 2, 2004 report specifically noted that “[t]here is no indication of seizures or falls.” Dr. Churchill’s March 14, 2002 report, however, indicates that as a result of her right sided weakness, Plaintiff broke her left foot in January 2002—in five places, no less.” (E.D. Michigan, Southern Division. No. 03-CV-73124-DT

That’s a small part of the evidence seen at the websites linked above. I presented this evidence to Republican Marsha Blackburn in person. Many citizens and regional business leaders asked Blackburn and the Committee leaders to take action but they will do nothing about these deadly organized crimes being committed against sick and dying Americans.

(1) My dad had cancer and tibial osteomyelitis (OM).  In order for dad to survive, infectious disease, plastic surgery, orthopedic surgery and oncology must have worked together. 

There were turf wars and no one communicated. Dad was in grave pain with a hole in his ankle that was so large I could see the bone. 

I tried to be an active advocate and that caused docs at Duke University to ignore dad.  I begged them to see dad. “He’s fine, we will see him next month.”  Dad died 3 days later.

(2) Nine months later I developed OM. Its not genetic or contagious.  Only common denominator was Duke Orthopedic surgeon Mark Easley, MD. 

Duke refused to treat me & got me black balled - no doc would treat.  It took 2 years until I found doctor over 1000 miles away.  I was in IL hospital 3 months to eradicate bone infection.  For those 2 years I had a hole in my leg that problem to the tibia bone.  I was in constant pain.

Meanwhile UNC Health Care’s Dr. Jonathan Juliano charted his “suspicion” I was harming myself (no psych consult).  That suspicion alone caused my health insurance to dump me.  I am now cancer patient, newly healed from OM with no health insurance.

http://AdvocateYourself.org

Carla Muss-Jacobs

Jan. 5, 2013, 10:46 p.m.

How does society’s “rights” become diluted?  Hmmmmm . . . they put “gag” clauses in settlement agreements (thereby eroding the 1st Amendment), they create things like “Motions for Summary Judgment” (thereby eroding the 7th Amendment), they create TSA body scanners (thereby eroding the 4th Amendment), etc. and so on. 

IMHO, “gag” clauses/orders in medical settlements (as is the subject of this article) are a violation of the 1st Amendment, period. 

No one should be able to tell another person they do not have a right to discuss an issue.

This is an interestng article relating to an event which happenend in the Portland Metro area.

http://thetribonline.net/news/story.php?story_id=131846187125548900

Oregon takes SLAPP rules very seriously.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_lawsuit_against_public_participation

If it ain’t slander or libel—if it’s the truth—let the truth speak!!

Todd Miller, Ph.D.

Jan. 6, 2013, 12:14 a.m.

Your approach is unique because its bottom-up, interviewing patients.  I really like that.

Quality of Health care whistleblowers receive far less attention then government whistleblowers but are far more prevalent and are another unexplored avenue.

My dad was a patient at Duke University.  His oncologist (Dr. Michael Morse) said that his cancer was over and he could have orthopedic surgery by Dr. Mark Easley.  However, what was not charted was that the same oncologist was having an email exchange with a radiologist that dad had a very small spot on his liver that should be ablated.  Because the info was charted, dad didn’t have the ablation.  Instead, dad had orthopedic surgery for a fallen arch.  After the ortho surgery, the oncologist said dad’s colon cancer (once in remission) had spread to the liver.

Dad needed more chemo.  The consequence of more chemo meant that dad’s bone couldn’t heal.  Dad developed osteomyelitis (OM) in his foot.  The orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mark Easley did surgery in hopes of eradicating the bone infection.  Dad had an infectious disease (ID) specialist in Duke Hospital but after he was discharged no Duke Clinic ID physician would treat dad.  Dad died from complications of OM because orthopedics would not cooperate, coordinate or communicate with ID (and vice versa).

Dad died 1-2010.  Ironically (bc OM is not genetic or contagious) I was dx with OM in 9-2010.  I was at Duke Hospital!  Surgeon Dr. Michael Bolognesi refused to treat me.  I was dc with open wound to tibia bone. 

Duke convinced UNC & Cleveland Clinic that I had a mental disorder and should not be treated!  I actually have letters from UNC and CC stating just that!  In fact UNC (without any psych evaluation) charted I had Munchausens and that prevented Johns Hopkins orthopedic surgeon Dr. Simon Mears from treating me. 

(Dr. Mears performed a surgery for OM in 11/2011 but the wound needed a plastic surgeon to keep it closed. Once Dr. Mears saw the Munchausen suspicion, Dr. Mears dumped me as a patient and let me leave his office with open surgical wound.  I have a psychiatrist that helped me through dad’s illness.  That psych said I never have had Munchausen but rather docs just dont want to treat me bc I was a strong advocate for dad, I ask many questions and dont walk lock-step with medical profession.)

I got very, very sick and ended up in UNC Hospital with a fungal blood infection.  The same UNC orthopedic surgeon that ignored me in 9-2010 (Dr. Laurence Dahners) again saw an open hole in my leg and refused to treat me. The ID specialist at UNC was Dr. Jonathan Juliano also ignored me.  Again, I was discharged with OM.

It took an amazing physician and orthopedic surgeon (Dr. Brian Cole from Midwest Orthopedics in Chicago) to put together a treatment team for me in Chicago.

In Summer 2012, I spent 3 months in Chicago hospital (over 1000 miles from home) and underwent multiple surgeries and PICC line antibiotics.  The surgeons who treated me were orthopedic surgeon Dr. Matthew Jimenez and plastic surgeon Dr. Iris Seitz.

Now I have no OM.  But, bc UNC charted Munchausen and Duke said I was mentally ill, I can’t get health insurance.

This all started because I was a strong patient advocate for my dad.  My advocacy caused Duke Hospital and Duke Clinic to ignore my dad and let him die.  Among other oddities, dad’s autopsy said he had “end stage pulmonary disease” when no one told me he had early or medium stage pulmonary disease. 

When I ended up at Duke, I challenged the docs to “prove me wrong that ortho and ID at Duke can’t eradicate OM.”  Duke was apparently so offended by my challenge that they tried to blackball me from getting care.  Or maybe Duke was afraid I would sue them about dad.  If I was dead, I couldn’t be sued.

Check out http://AdvocateYourself.org

Thank you for the opportunity to speak out.  I am scared for the medical profession.

Excuse me, a 90 year old with pneumonia? She’s lucky to live so long. People expect miracles from modern health care when they should be expecting comfort care and end of life counseling.

We’ve had 53 respond so far, including 16 doctors, 13 nurses and a smattering of administrators, case managers, techs and more. They are sharing story ideas and issues of concern, and we plan to turn to them for expert advice as we investigate patient safety issues in 2013.

By far, this is the best news of the story.  People in healthcare (as is seen in the comment sections of this website very frequently) have a tendency to dismiss any claim of wrongdoing as malicious falsehood or “confusing” the public with facts.

To see some stepping up to take the idea seriously gives some real hope for change where it counts.

My wife was manipulated(see Male Practice, How Doctors Manipulate Women, 1983,1984) into pushing me into back surgery by an Austin, Tx surgeon named William Taylor(now retired). He has a daughter named Christi Risinger who is an Internist in Austin. These surgeons choose their “Marks” by guidelines such as occupation, insurance provider. looks, among other things in order to fill their surgery schedule, while treating some other customers honestly.
My office visit was a “Sting” designed to get me on the table for a surgery I did not need and shouldn’t have had.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Patient Safety

Patient Safety: Exploring Quality of Care in the U.S.

More than 1 million patients suffer harm each year while being treated in the U.S. health care system. Even more receive substandard care or costly overtreatment.

The Story So Far

Too many patients suffer harm instead of healing in U.S. medicine. That’s why ProPublica’s reporters have investigated everything from deadly dialysis centers and dangerous hospitals to the failure of state boards to discipline incompetent nurses.


This page allows patients, providers and readers to join the patient safety conversation. Our goal is to find out why so many patients are suffering harm and highlight the best ways to solve the problem. Here you’ll find regular updates, and places to share your stories, views or expertise.

Read all of our posts on patient safety, and find out how to get involved.

Share Your Story

Your input can help ProPublica's reporting.

Have you worked in health care? Tell us what you’ve observed about patient safety.

Have you or a loved one been harmed? Tell us about it.

Join the Discussion

Join the over 1,500 members of ProPublica's Patient Harm Group to learn, share your story and connect with others.

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