Drug Shortages are Forcing Treatments to be Rationed

Posted in Personal Injury

A NY Times article published on January 29, 2016 addressed the increasingly problematic issue of drug shortages. According to the article authored by Sheri Fink, in recent years, shortages of all sorts of drugs “have become the new normal in American medicine.” Ms. Fink notes that The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists currently lists inadequate supplies of more than 150 drugs and therapeutics. The reasons for the shortages are varied: there may be manufacturing shortages, federal safety crackdowns, or the abandonment by pharmaceutical companies of low-profit products. Although pharmacists and physicians are acutely aware of the problem, the public is not.

The article observes that there are no satisfactory nationwide guidelines to determine who does and does not receive drugs, and what the pecking order is for distribution of scarce drugs to patients who need them. Pharmaceutical companies often sell their products to healthcare providers—doctors, hospitals, and other institutions—on a first come, first served basis, leaving the final decision of who gets what up to the doctors, pharmacists, and hospitals themselves.

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Employers Should Be Mindful with Age Discrimination Claims on the Rise

Posted in Employment

As life, work, and the economy have changed over the last several decades, so has the age of retirement. Unfortunately, for many people retiring at 65 is no longer an option in today’s world. Due to this fact, we have seen a corresponding rise in the number of workplace age discrimination cases in the past few years.

Considering people are working well past the traditional age of retirement, employers must be mindful in their succession planning practices and in their communications with their more seasoned employees. It can be very easy for an employer to start what was intended to be a legitimate succession planning discussion with an employee, only for it to turn into an improper conversation about retirement.

Now, whether or not an individual will prevail in a claim for age discrimination will most likely depend on the employee’s status and the motivating factor behind their termination, among other factors. While age discrimination cases tend to be harder to prove than a disability, gender, or race discrimination case, this does not mean that employers should start suggesting that their older employees consider retirement. In other words, put down the engraved plaques and watches, and as always be thoughtful in your communications with employees.

If you feel you have been discriminated against in the workplace because of your age, it is recommended that you seek legal counsel immediately to discuss your options.

Medical Errors in Hospitals are the Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.

Posted in Medical Malpractice, Personal Injury

The Journal of Patient Safety discussed recent studies which have shown that preventable medical errors are responsible for between 200,000 and 400,000 patient deaths per year in U.S. hospitals. These errors include facility acquired infections, medication errors, omissions in treatment, communication errors between health care providers, nerve or vessel injuries, wrong operations, injuries to organs during surgical procedures, blood clots, diagnostic errors, and wound infections. The number of deaths caused by medical errors committed in a hospital, but which occur after a patient is discharged from a hospital, is equally large.

The cost of deaths due to preventable medical errors is obviously staggering in terms of the emotional loss felt by the family members and loved ones of those who have needlessly died, but the financial loss is shocking as well. By some estimates, medical errors cost the United States between $15 and 19 billion per year in additional medical costs including ancillary services, prescription drug services, and in-patient and out-patient care.

Interestingly, one study found that patients reported 3 times as many preventable adverse events than were indicated in their records. This study also found that physicians often refuse to report serious adverse events, with cardiologists being the highest of the non-reporting physician groups.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, it is recommended that you speak with experience legal counsel immediately to discuss your situation.

Commonwealth Court Upholds Philadelphia’s Definition of a Family for Zoning Purposes

Posted in Real Estate

A recent Commonwealth Court case involving a pair of residential properties has aptly demonstrated that not every residential property in Philadelphia can be automatically utilized for student housing. This case in question is Schwartz v. Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment, 2015 Pa Commw. Lexis 413 (2015).

In Schwartz, two properties were zoned for single family and two family residential use, and located near Drexel University’s campus in Powelton Village. The properties were unequivocally zoned and used for residential purposes, and they were currently being leased to Drexel students, with each property rooming at least 4 students. For the record, the Philadelphia Zoning Code defines a family as “a person living independently or group of persons living as a single household unit using housekeeping facilities in common, but not to include more than three persons unrelated by blood, marriage or adoption.”

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Peer Review Protection Act Does Not Shield All Internal Hospital Documents

Posted in Medical Malpractice

The Pennsylvania Peer Review Protection Act, 63 P.S. § 425.1 et seq., is a statute that, among other things, prohibits the proceedings and records of an internal review committee convened to evaluate the quality of care provided by a health care provider(s) from disclosure. In essence, the purpose of this portion of the Act is to allow health care organizations to perform honest, critical analysis of their health care providers, without fear that the contents of their review will become public or be used against them in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

The confidentiality provision of the Peer Review Protection Act is frequently used by hospitals, physicians, and health care organizations to prevent internal records from disclosure in malpractice litigation. In practice, this confidentiality provision is often employed more broadly than the statute permits, and is used to justify the withholding of internal records and documents that were not truly created as part of any internal peer review process.

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Nursing Homes Should Improve Quality of Care to Residents

Posted in Nursing Home Law

With the arrival of the New Year, there are many pledges or resolutions being made. Some pledges include the promises by nursing homes to give better quality care to its residents. While made with good intentions, these promises may actually be prompted as a result of the “Special Focus Facility Initiative” program conducted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

This program reviews nursing homes on a regular basis to determine if the homes are providing quality care. Medicare personnel identify the homes that require corrections or improvements. If serious problems are not corrected then the nursing home’s participation in billing Medicare and Medicaid may be terminated.

As a result, many nursing homes are pledging and resolving to provide better service and improve the care to their residents. The New Year, however, may be too little too late for some, as the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services have already made a list of Nursing Homes that are either in need of improvement or have improved since making the list.

If you are considering placing your loved one in a nursing home, please be sure to consider the information in the Special Focus Facility (“SFF”) Initiative report.

Stark & Stark has developed a Pennsylvania Nursing Home Practice in conjunction with our New Jersey Nursing Home Practice. We represent families of loved ones who have been mistreated and neglected in nursing homes. Please contact Stark & Stark’s Nursing Home Litigation Group if you would like to discuss the improper care your loved one has received in Pennsylvania.

Understanding Wrongful Death & Survival Claims

Posted in Wrongful Death

When a family member or loved one is killed as a result of the negligence of another person, it can be understandably difficult to determine what next steps you need to take. In cases such as these, the terms “wrongful death” and “survival” claims are typically discussed. These types of claims aim to recover damages for the families of the deceased. Although both terms are frequently referenced together, they are actually very separate and distinct terms. For this reason, it is extremely important that families understand what each means.

A wrongful death claim is an action to recover damages for the death of an individual. In addition, money may also be recovered for reasonable hospital, nursing, medical, and funeral expenses, as well any expenses resulting from the administration necessitated by the reason(s) of death. The money recovered in a wrongful death claim will only go to either the spouse, child(ren), or parents of the deceased, and only as beneficiaries. Each of these individuals is entitled to money in accordance with intestacy laws. Intestacy is a legal term that refers to any individual who has died without a Will in place. As a result, money obtained from a wrongful death claim is distributed by these laws, so even if there is a Will prior to death, that will not affect or control how this money is distributed amongst family members.

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Can an Injured Third Party Sue a Hospital for Medical Malpractice?

Posted in Medical Malpractice

Consider the following scenario: A patient is given pain medication in a hospital emergency room which impairs the ability to operate a motor vehicle. The doctor who administers the medication discharges the patient from the hospital without advising her not to drive while on the medication. On the way home from the hospital, the patient, still under the influence of the pain medication, veers into opposing traffic, causing an accident. Can an individual injured in that motor vehicle accident sue the doctor at the hospital who administered pain medication without informing the patient not to drive? The New York Court of Appeals recently said yes.

The above fact pattern is precisely what occurred in Davis v. South Nassau Communities Hospital. Lorraine Walsh presented to the South Nassau Communities Hospital emergency room on March 4, 2009 with stomach pain. A doctor there gave her a heavy pain medication, Dilaudid, and then discharged her home a short time later.

The doctor never warned Ms. Walsh that Dilaudid could impair her ability to drive. Ms. Walsh drove herself home from the hospital. On her way, she crossed into oncoming traffic, striking a vehicle being driven by Edward Davis. Mr. Davis suffered injuries in the accident. He then sued the hospital and physician for medical malpractice, alleging that the hospital and doctor were negligent in failing to warn Ms. Walsh of the danger involved in driving while under the influence of Dilaudid.

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Government Cracks Down on Hospitals with High Rates of Complications

Posted in Social Security

Since 2008, Medicare has refused to reimburse hospitals for the cost of treating patients who suffer avoidable medical complications. Although technically Medicare can actually expel a hospital with high rates of errors from the Medicare program, this is very rarely done.

However, in 2015, the federal government did cut payments to 721 hospitals which possessed documented high rates of infections and other patient injuries in the previous year. Among the 721 institutions were 2 frequently used by patients in Eastern Pennsylvania – the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, and Geisinger Medical Center in Dansville, Pennsylvania.

Hospital acquired conditions, or HACs, include infections, blood clots, bed sores, and other complications which are considered avoidable. The penalties levied on the 721 hospitals are estimated to be in excess of $300 million. In 2013, approximately 1 in 8 admissions to a hospital included an HAC. Populations at highest risk are the very young and the very old, as well as those who have chronic diseases which would place them at a higher likelihood of developing an HAC.

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Med Mal Claims at NYC-owned Hospitals Increase

Posted in Medical Malpractice

According to the New York City Comptroller’s Office, the number of medical malpractice claims filed against City-owned hospitals increased in the 2015 fiscal year. This is a significant development. Available data shows that, until 2013, medical malpractice payouts had not increased nationally since 2003.

According to data compiled by Diederich Healthcare, a medical liability insurance and consulting company, which was based on records from the National Practitioner Data Bank, a clearinghouse of medical malpractice information, medical malpractice payouts rose nationally by 4.7% in 2013. This was the first time medical malpractice payouts had increased in 10 years. According to Diederich, total payout amounts again in increased in 2014 – by 4.4%. In 2014, more money was paid out on medical malpractice claims per capita in New York than any other state. This was followed by New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Now, based on information provided by the New York City Comptroller’s Office, the number of medical malpractice claims filed against City-owned hospitals increased in fiscal year 2015, from 495 in fiscal year 2013, to 521 in fiscal year 2015. New York City has 11 public hospitals, which are operated by the City Health and Hospitals Corporation. It is the largest municipal healthcare system in the country. Because of its sheer size, and the number of patients it serves, an increase in the number of medical malpractice claims filed against its hospitals is an important statistic.

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