In the wake of former football coach Jerry Sandusky’s conviction on forty-five counts of sexual abuse, Pennsylvania State University, Sandusky’s former employer, issued an invitation to Sandusky’s victims to discuss settling their civil lawsuits against the school. Observers have suggested that the school wants to resolve any and all civil claims arising from the Sandusky case as quickly as possible. Several victims have already filed lawsuits against the university, alleging negligence for failing to follow up on reports and allegations of abuse years ago, and for allegedly covering up the abuse.
The Sandusky case exploded on the national stage in November 2011, when an investigation of Sandusky and other Penn State officials went public. Prosecutors accused Sandusky of sexually abusing eight boys beginning in 1994 and continuing until at least 2009. Several administrators resigned, and the university fired several officials, including its head football coach, Joe Paterno, over the allegations. The accusations centered around a charity, The Second Mile, that Sandusky started to help troubled youth, but that prosecutors said he used it to find victims. All of the alleged victims said that they met Sandusky through the charity.
Sandusky’s trial on forty-nine counts of sexual abuse began on June 11, 2012. The prosecution called a number of the alleged victims as witnesses. The defense convinced the court to drop one of the counts of sexual abuse, but the jury convicted Sandusky of forty-five of the remaining charges on June 22.
Dementia patients can present particular challenges to nursing home staff, requiring routine care and attention. In some nursing homes around the country, staffers are using antipsychotic medications as a form of “chemical restraint” to treat dementia patients. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently warned that these medications pose risks of severe complications or death for dementia sufferers.
In order to coordinate efforts to reduce nursing homes’ use of antipsychotics, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that administers Medicare and other public assistance programs, announced a partnership with state governments and health care providers. Antipsychotics are still a problem in many nursing home in Connecticut and around the country, and they can be dangerous enough that, in many cases, they can be viewed as a form of nursing home abuse or neglect.
The group of antipsychotic medications includes two subgroups: older drugs known as “typical” antipsychotics, and newer “atypical” antipsychotics. Typical antipsychotics include drugs like Haldol and Thorazine. Atypical antipsychotics include Seroquel, Risperdal, Abilify, and Zyprexa. Their most common approved use is for the treatment of schizophrenia and related disorders. Dementia patients who also suffer from schizophrenia-related conditions may be able to take an antipsychotic medication safely. For other dementia sufferers, however, these medications can have severe, sometimes fatal side effects.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a federal agency that investigates automobile and aviation accidents and makes recommendations for improvements to safety regulations, would serve as an excellent model for an agency to monitor patient safety, according to a recent medical journal article.
The article was written by a medical doctor, an attorney, and two celebrities: actor Dennis Quaid and airline pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III. They draw on examples of aviation safety improvements to make the case for a similar body to handle medical issues, and they each draw on personal experiences to show how such an agency could help prevent medication errors and other potential harms.
The four authors each have experience as pilots and have personal stories relevant to the issue of aviation and patient safety. They use the aviation system as a model because it has had great success with safety improvements. In the 1970’s, air travel reportedly had a risk of death from crashes of one in two million. Now, the risk is down to one in ten million. A well-organized system of investigating and reporting on aviation accidents led to extensive improvements in training, equipment maintenance, and overall management of air travel. The authors cite the link between investigations and “preventive action” as the key to the NTSB’s success. The same link is needed in medicine, they say, where inefficient systems prevent broad safety reforms, costing both lives and money.
An 81 year-old woman is suing a hospital in New Haven, alleging that her doctor and other hospital staff failed to properly monitor her and ensure her safety while she was recovering from a medical procedure in 2010. She claims that she suffered multiple severe injuries when she fell off the table in the operating room. She is claiming damages for medical expenses and future care needs.
Florence Fiedler, a retired administrator for the FBI, went to Yale-New Haven Hospital on February 7, 2010 to have a pacemaker installed. This is a relatively routine surgical procedure, and it reportedly went well. She alleges that hospital staff left her unattended after the procedure, while she was still under anesthesia. She also claims that the staff did not leave the gurney in a low position, placing her at an unsafe height. She fell off the gurney, allegedly suffering a fractured hip and collarbone, a fractured spine, a broken toe, and a traumatic head injury causing internal bleeding. She claims that she was unable to walk after the fall and had to re-learn how. She also allegedly cannot climb stairs or drive a car. She cannot live on her own, and says that she is now a “shut-in.”
A hospital spokesperson stated that the hospital reported the incident to the state’s health department, and that the hospital has taken corrective measures to prevent future incidents. The hospital also reportedly apologized to Fiedler.
Awareness of concussions as a serious health risk in sports, particularly youth sports, has quickly grown in recent years. Many coaches and athletic officials recognize that contact sports, particularly hockey and football, pose risks of seriously debilitating injuries to players. This awareness has also brought an understanding of the extensive recovery needs of athletes suffering from concussions. That said, athletes continue to sustain concussions at an alarming rate. Training and education regarding concussions and traumatic head injuries are mandatory for coaches in several states, including Connecticut. Personal injury attorneys are helping injured athletes obtain compensation for damages when their injuries result from negligence or defective equipment.
An article published recently in a Canadian medical journal addressed concussions among young hockey players in very blunt terms, asking if such concussions amount to “child abuse.” Hockey officials have reportedly implemented new rules, including a “no tolerance” rule prohibiting contact with a player’s head. Officials are also promoting education about how to prevent concussions and how to properly treat a player suffering from one. Whether these measures are enough remains to be seen.