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Health Notes


Mass. mothers can breast-feed in public

New mothers in Massachusetts who breast feed in public now have more legal protections.

A new law that took effect last Thursday bars people from harassing or restricting women who nurse in stores, restaurants, parks or other public locations. The law was passed last year and signed earlier this year by Gov. Deval Patrick.

Previously, women who breast-fed their children in public could have been prosecuted for indecent exposure or lewd conduct. Law supporters said that, if convicted, those mothers would have had to register as sex offenders.

Proponents of the law say the new protections will encourage mothers to breast-feed — which provides health benefits for babies and their mothers.

Falls most common accident at Mass. hospitals

Massachusetts has released its first report of medical errors, saying falls are the most common accident in state hospitals.

There were 224 falls in 2008, 66 percent of the 338 reported medical incidents.

The state Department of Public Health issued its findings last Wednesday, comparing rates to Minnesota because it is the only other state that offers something close to a standardized comparison.

While Massachusetts’ fall rate was 67 percent higher than Minnesota’s, Massachusetts’s total rate of serious errors was slightly lower.

Officials say Massachusetts hospitals have always been required to report incidents, but 2008 was the first year that the state used a framework based on a national reporting system.

Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary had the highest rate, with 9.7 reported events per 10,000 patient days, while St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester had the highest number of reported incidents with 25.

Still, the report noted the three highest rates are from facilities with relatively few patient days. For example, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary had four reported incidents — three wrong surgical procedures and one fall — for 4,124 patient days.

Spokeswoman Mary Leach said because the hospital is an ambulatory facility, the rate does not reflect the large number of ambulatory and surgical patients the hospital sees every day. The hospital’s Web site detailed the four reported incidents in a statement, saying the patients suffered no lasting disability and the incidents were investigated.
A message left at St. Vincent seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Dr. Paul Dreyer, director of the Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality, said the data are most useful for hospital administrators and not for ranking facilities. He said the bureau could not determine whether hospitals have an “untoward” number of errors or are just diligently reporting their errors.

“We can’t know that until we’re confident all hospitals are reporting using the same criteria and same diligence,” Dreyer said.

Mass. public health officials cite Beth Israel for staph infections

Massachusetts public health officials have found what they describe as “serious deficiencies” in infection control practices at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Investigators from the state Department of Public Health launched a probe last month after the Boston hospital reported a cluster of staph infections in mothers and babies who had been in the maternity ward. Eight mothers and two infants required hospitalization for their infection. All recovered.

Although none of the deficiencies identified was the source of the infection cluster, the investigation revealed problems with organizational policies, training and infection control practices.

In an e-mail sent to Beth Israel staff, hospital officials said they took the findings in the report very seriously and promised to submit a plan to correct any deficiencies within days.

Partners HealthCare passes new limits on gifts

Doctors with the largest hospital and physician network in Massachusetts no longer will be allowed to accept gifts and meals from drug and device companies.

Partners HealthCare disclosed to staff last Thursday new tougher restrictions to counter industry’s influence over drugs and treatments.

Partners, which includes the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals in Boston, will also prevent doctors from traveling the country as paid members of company “speakers bureaus.”

Dr. Peter Slavin, president of Massachusetts General Hospital and a member of the commission that developed the new policy, told the Boston Globe the network didn’t want doctors being used as “hired guns.”

The new policy will be begin by Oct. 1.

St. Elizabeth’s employees vote to join union

Employees at Boston’s St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center have voted to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Union leaders said last Thursday that employees approved a plan to join Local 1199 of SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. The union will represent more than 800 employees, including respiratory therapists, surgical and X-ray technicians, and dietary workers.

It’s the largest union victory at a Boston-area hospital in around two decades.
St. Elizabeth, the flagship of the Caritas Christi Health Care chain, is the first large Boston hospital to be organized by the SEIU.

Caritas Christi, which operates six community hospitals, reached an agreement with the union in January to allow union elections.

(Associated Press)

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