A sick nursing home resident lies in bed

Fully 25% of older American Medicare beneficiaries are at high risk of being harmed during acute care stays, according to findings released Thursday by a federal government watchdog. 

Investigators with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General reviewed medical records of 770 patients discharged from hospitals in 2018. One in 4 of these adults was found to have temporary or lasting harm, including “adverse events” that either led to longer hospital stays or caused “permanent harm, death or that required life-saving intervention,” according to USA Today.

The OIG is pushing for Medicare’s pay-for-performance program to evaluate a wider array of hospital-related health complications. Hospitals do not currently face reduced payments for the vast majority of complications, USA Today reported. There were also lost gains in safety during the pandemic, such as a surge in “central line” catheter infections during the early pandemic in 2020. 

But hospitals likely will recover from these COVID-19 related safety shortfalls, one expert told the news outlet. Medicare’s 1% payment reductions for poor performers, for example, will likely motivate change, said Michael Ramsey, M.D., CEO of the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, an Irvine, California-based nonprofit.

“It’s got to come from the top down,” he said. “You’ve got to have the board’s bonuses based on safety in the hospital, all the way down to the lowest-paid person.”

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