by Max Brantley
Internal documents obtained by The Times depict a system in which scrutiny is sporadic and avoidable errors are chronic.
As in the Zeppa case, records indicate that the mandated safety investigations often go undone: From 2011 to 2013, medical workers reported 239 unexpected deaths, but only 100 inquiries were forwarded to the Pentagon’s patient-safety center, where analysts recommend how to improve care. Cases involving permanent harm often remained unexamined as well.
At the same time, by several measures considered crucial barometers of patient safety, the military system has consistently had higher than expected rates of harm and complications in two central parts of its business — maternity care and surgery.
More than 50,000 babies are born at military hospitals each year, and they are twice as likely to be injured during delivery as newborns nationwide, the most recent statistics show. And their mothers were more likely to hemorrhage after childbirth than mothers at civilian hospitals, according to a 2012 analysis conducted for the Pentagon.
In surgery, half of the system’s 16 largest hospitals had higher than expected rates of complications over a recent 12-month period, the American College of Surgeons found last year. Four of the busiest hospitals have performed poorly on that metric year after year.