April 12, 2011 -- Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today announced a national program to help save 63,000 lives and up to $35 billion in health care costs over the next three years by preventing hospital-related injuries.
"Americans go the hospital to get well, but millions of patients are injured because of preventable complications and accidents," Sebelius said. "Working closely with hospitals, doctors, nurses, patients, families and employers, we will support efforts to help keep patients safe, improve care, and reduce costs. Working together, we can help eliminate preventable harm to patients."
Sebelius was joined by hospital leaders, employers, insurers, doctors, nurses and patient advocates, including Sorrel King, who lost her 18-month-old daughter Josie King to hospital errors in 2001.
"For 10 years I have been travelling all around the country, in and out of hospitals," said King, "and I have to tell you they are doing really great things and really great things are happening. But I have to tell you it's not happening fast enough."
Josie, who was recovering from second-degree burns at Johns Hopkins Hospital, died after a nurse gave her methadone injection despite verbal orders to the contrary.
As many as one-third of hospital visits lead to hospital-related injuries, according to an April 7 report in Health Affairs. The missteps range from hospital-acquired infections to deadly surgical mistakes.
"The system is broken and we need to fix it," King said. "I am so happy to be a part of this today because I know, I hope, that this thing is going to get going faster."
Sebelius said under the Partnership for Patients, HHS would invest up to $1 billion in federal funding through the Affordable Care Act.
The Community-based Care Transitions Program pledged $500 million and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will pitch in up to $500 million more to achieve the partnership's two main goals: To reduce preventable injuries by 40 percent; and cut preventable hospital readmissions by 20 percent.
"Reaching those targets would save up to $35 billion over the next 10 years," Sebelius said, adding that $10 billion of that would come from Medicare savings. "That's a return of up to $10 for each dollar we're investing."
HHS: Investment Will Pay Off
The announcement comes days after a budget battle nearly led to a government shutdown. Among other entitlements, Medicare and Medicaid were on the chopping block and remain so in upcoming talks on raising the debt ceiling.
CMS administrator Dr. Donald Berwick said meeting the partnership's goals would take will, teamwork, and "major investments."
"Doing it right, in the long run, costs less and does more," he said. "Improving the quality of care is the right way -- it's the best way -- out of our health care conundrum."