JCAHO Often Fails To Ensure Hospital Safety, Cleanliness, Chicago Tribune Says
The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations often "serves the interests of the hospital industry over those of the public," according to a Chicago Tribune investigation. In a review conducted as part of a series on "Unhealthy Hospitals," the Tribune found that JCAHO often fails to provide "assurance that hospitals are clean, adequately staffed and provide superior care." The organization, which accredits 4,800 hospitals nationwide that provide care for about 90% of U.S. patients, conducts surveys every three years at a cost of $40,000 for an "average size" hospital to ensure the quality and safety of the facilities. However, the Tribune found:
- Fewer than 1% of the hospitals that JCAHO surveyed in the last 17 years did not receive accreditation, and some facilities received "high accreditation" at times of public health crises. For example, Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center received high accreditation after federal officials found patients at the facility in "immediate jeopardy" from infection control problems.
- JCAHO informs hospitals about inspection dates "up to three months in advance," which allows the facilities to "quickly" improve conditions to receive accreditation. Some facilities temporarily have hired nurses and transferred patients to "ease overcrowded and unsafe conditions" before inspections. In addition, JCAHO allows hospitals to select the patient files that inspectors will review.
- JCAHO uses a voluntary reporting system that "vastly underestimates" the number of "avoidable patient deaths" at hospitals. For example, the organization found only 12 patient deaths from preventable hospital-borne infections since 1995, but a Tribune investigation found about 75,000 such deaths in a one-year period.
JCAHO officials admit that the surveys are "not flawless," according to the Tribune. JCAHO President Dennis O'Leary said, "We have missed things. These are fallible systems." He said that the organization plans to implement "tougher grading standards and heightened focus on patient care" in 2004 (Berens/Japsen, Chicago Tribune, 11/10). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.