Consumer Watchdog Campaign: U.S. Senate Health Committee Hearing Today: “More Than 1,000 Preventable Deaths A Day Is Too Many”

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SANTA MONICA, CA – The U.S. Senate committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions holds a hearing today to investigate failures in patient safety and the estimated 440,000 deaths that occur in hospitals every year due to preventable medical errors. A landmark California initiative on the November 2014 ballot addresses the patient safety crisis with reforms that include a first-in-the-nation requirement for drug and alcohol testing of physicians.

The measure, Proposition 46, will help patients hold negligent doctors accountable and reduce prescription drug abuse by physicians and patients. The proponent of Proposition 46 is Bob Pack, a father who lost his young children Alana, 7, and Troy, 10, to a drunk and drugged driver who had been overprescribed thousands of pills by multiple Kaiser physicians at the same hospital, despite not having physical symptoms..

“No family should suffer because a doctor recklessly prescribes pills to an addict, is a substance abuser, or commits repeated acts of medical negligence,” said Bob Pack. “The patient safety reforms in Proposition 46 will save lives and protect families from dangerous, impaired and drug dealing doctors.”

Proposition 46, the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act, will:

•    Enact the first law in the nation to require random drug and alcohol tests of physicians in hospitals, modeled after the Federal Aviation Administration testing program that has successfully reduced substance abuse by pilots;

•    Require immediate suspension and investigation by the state Medical Board upon a confirmed positive drug or alcohol test – currently investigations by the Medical Board can take years;

•    Require that physicians check the state’s existing prescription drug database before prescribing narcotics and other addictive drugs to first-time patients – currently less than 6% of doctors check the database to identify drug-seeking patients;

•    And, promote justice for patients and legal deterrence to wrongdoing by adjusting California’s cap on compensation for victims of medical negligence to account for 39 years of inflation – the unadjusted cap prevent many victims from holding doctors who harm them accountable.

USA Today has reported that 103,000 medical professionals have a drug abuse problem at any given time. When alcohol abuse is also considered, the number of substance abusing medical professionals rises above 500,000. The Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other leading patient safety experts have called for drug testing doctors.

Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. have more than tripled since 1990. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported that doctors are the number one source of prescription drugs for chronic addicts. Other states that require doctors to check a prescription drug database before prescribing – including New York, Tennessee and Kentucky – have experienced dramatic reductions in the number of doctor shoppers, as high as 75% in New York. Less than 6% of doctors currently check the database in California.

Proposition 46 would also index for inflation a $250,000 cap on human suffering damages in medical malpractice lawsuits that was enacted in California in 1975 and has never been adjusted for inflation. A study in the Journal of Patient Safety finds up to 440,000 preventable medical errors lead to death in hospitals every year, making medical negligence the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., behind only heart disease and cancer. A witness in today’s hearing, Dr. Joanne Disch of the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, noted that another 10,000 people are seriously harmed in preventable errors every day.

Bob Pack is joined by many other families who have been harmed or lost loved ones to medical negligence, including:

•    Tim and Tammy Smick, of Downey, whose son Alex lost his life after failures by three doctors that ended in a lethal overdose administered by medical providers at the very facility Alex had entered to seek treatment for prescription drug dependence.

•    Kathy Olsen of Chula Vista and her twenty-one year old son, Steven, who became blind and developmentally disabled at age two after a hiking accident in the woods. Steven fell on a stick, causing an abscess which the doctors missed after refusing to do a simple CAT scan.

•    Eric Andrist of Los Angeles, who lost his developmentally disabled sister Cali after she was misdiagnosed, given a dangerous mix of medications, and ultimately died of cardiac arrest. Medical staff wrongly thought she had a do not resuscitate order and intervened too late to save her life.

For more on Proposition 46, and families harmed by substance abuse, impaired and negligent doctors, visit:

Paid for by Consumer Watchdog Campaign – Yes on 45 and 46, a coalition of consumer advocates, attorneys and nurses.  777 S. Figueroa St., Ste. 4050, Los Angeles, CA  90017. Major funding by Consumer Watchdog and Greene, Broillet & Wheeler, LLP.

Carmen Balber
Carmen Balber
Consumer Watchdog executive director Carmen Balber has been with the organization for nearly two decades. She spent four years directing the group’s Washington, D.C. office where she advocated for key health insurance market reforms that were ultimately enacted into law as part of the Affordable Care Act.

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