Mar 3, 2003
Jésica Santillán, who went into Duke University Hospital for an operation to save her life, was instead killed by that operation. Doctors gave her the heart and lungs from someone with an incompatible blood type. Hospital spokespersons called it a "clerical error."
A "clerical error"? Clerical error means that someone doesn't get billed right away, or gets billed too much. Who could think of calling the death of someone a "clerical error"?
We may have paid more attention to the death of Jésica, but what happened to her is all too common in American hospitals today. A blood type is a simple thing to verify – if time is taken. But, less and less is time taken.
"Errors" – clerical or otherwise – are common today and growing more common. Infections are commonplace also.
How could it be otherwise, as hospitals across the country transform themselves into profit-making enterprises? In order to maximize profits, they cut back on staff. Nurses, whose job it is to monitor the overall situation of the patients, are given extra patients to care for. The staff whose job it is to keep a hospital sanitary is reduced. There are fewer dietary workers, whose job it is to make sure that patients get the right food; fewer clinical workers, whose job it is to take the tests and read their results; fewer pharmacy workers, whose job it is to make sure that patients get the right drugs.
With such cutbacks, there can only be more "errors," more infections.
If there is a "nursing shortage," as some hospitals claim, it's because of such worsening conditions.
Workers in factories know what it means on an assembly line when the boss "cuts costs." Quality goes down.
Well, hospital bosses are cutting costs too. And "quality" in the hospitals is going down. But there's a difference. When a car gets messed up badly, the company just recalls it. But no one can recall Jésica nor all the thousands of others who die as the result of similar mistakes.