Since then, Rust, now 59, is an atypically diligent patient, said his doctors at the Washington Hospital Center, which Medicare says has average readmission rates. He eats carefully, keeping his salt intake to 1,800 milligrams a day. He washes canned vegetables to get rid of extra salt. He has forsaken the fried foods and fast foods he loves in favor of baked or broiled meat. He walks around the block each morning and takes his pills on schedule.
Yet, even these good habits could not keep Rust from readmission. In January, he was rehospitalized for four days. A week later, he was back for 17 days and 15 days in May. In September, doctors implanted a $150,000 heart pump, which they hope will stabilize his heart.
"It's nice to think hospitals control all of the pieces in this puzzle," said George Ruiz, who runs the hospital center's heart failure outpatient clinic. "But even though hospitals can do amazing work, they sometimes have very limited resources to address all the ills of a community."
Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.