According to health news reports by USA Today, surgery centers are cutting costs to boost profits, leading to many patient fatalities. Investigations have revealed dangerous conditions contributing to many patient deaths in surgery centers across the country. Reports highlight numerous operations performed in these non-hospital facilities that have resulted in death.
The Dangers of Surgery Centers
Investigations of public records reveal that U.S. surgery centers are risking patients’ lives by performing surgeries on frail, sick patients, using outdated equipment, cutting training classes, and sending patients home too soon. USA Today and Kaiser Health investigations show that 260 patients have died in surgery centers around the country since 2013. Many deaths were related to routine in-and-out surgical procedures like tonsillectomies and colonoscopies, and some fatality victims were children as young as two years of age.
During investigations, reporters interviewed numerous doctors, patients and health experts connected to surgical centers throughout the nation. They also examined legal filings, autopsy records, and over 12,000 state and Medicare inspection records for various surgical centers. Investigative findings showed:
- Overbooking Patients – To increase profits, some surgery centers overbooked patients, even for high-risk procedures that should have taken place in hospital settings. At least 25 patients with undetected, underlying medical conditions died within minutes or days after leaving surgical centers.
- Outdated or Faulty Equipment – To cut operating expenses, some surgery centers were using old, outdated or faulty equipment for patient procedures. This resulted in inaccurate health assessments of patients and put patients at greater risk of serious complications.
- Inadequate Training – Surgery centers are licensed, but they are licensed as non-hospital facilities. Surgery centers have been criticized in cases where staff did not understand procedures or have the necessary medical skills to keep patients from bleeding to death.
- Releasing Patients Too Soon – Many surgery centers sent patients home before they were fully recovered, so they could book more patients. In cases in Arkansas, Georgia, and Oklahoma, family members discovered that their loved ones who they thought were sleeping on the drive home were actually on the verge of death.
Deaths in surgery centers are a growing concern in America. Since federal regulators at Medicare approved more complex surgeries for surgery centers, more people have died. Studies show that 14 patients died after having high-risk spinal surgeries that centers were not equipped to handle, even though they were approved to conduct the surgeries. Other deaths include an Ohio woman with high blood pressure who suffered a heart attack, a 49-year-old man from West Virginia who was awaiting a heart transplant, and several children with sleep apnea who were not monitored properly.
Surgery centers are used by many people in more rural areas where the local hospital may be miles away. To protect patients, Medicare requires that surgery centers link to local hospitals in case emergency situations arise. However, in many rural areas, the local hospital may be 25 miles away, which can mean death in some emergencies. Even when the hospital is closer, 20 to 30 minutes can easily go by between a 911 call and the arrival of an emergency vehicle.
Greed is Raising the Risk of Injury and Death
Even though surgery centers pose a higher risk of injuries and death, they also pose the potential for high profits. Many doctors in surgery centers own a share of the center’s profits. Doctors can still charge their normal fees for services, but increase their profits by cutting operational costs. These expense cuts are achieved by overbooking patients, using old or faulty equipment, not buying expensive emergency equipment, hiring staff with less training, paying staff lower wages, and increasing patient turnover. All of these actions that boost profits put patients at greater risks of injuries and fatalities.
Although there are at least 260 deaths related to surgery center procedures, perhaps the one that’s most noted is the death of the famous comedian, Joan Rivers. In 2014, Ms. Rivers stopped breathing during a routine procedure in a California surgery center. Her daughter claimed that doctors took cellphone pictures of Ms. Rivers while she was sedated, but failed to properly monitor her or act when they discovered the emergency situation.
There are currently 5,600 surgery centers across the country. There are now more surgery centers that perform routine, same-day operations than hospitals. The industry argues that surgery centers offer patients faster, cheaper medical services than hospitals. That may be the case, but that doesn’t make them a safer option. Patients go to surgery centers for a variety of reasons, including faster, cheaper services, but most patients are unaware of the potential dangers. High profits entice surgery center owners and doctors to cut essential services that impact patient care. Faster, cheaper surgical procedures do not outweigh the potential risks of serious injuries or death.