Senior writer and co-founder of C-HIT, Lisa Chedekel is an award-winning investigative reporter who wrote for the Hartford Courant for 15 years, covering a wide range of beats, from politics to healthcare. In 1999, she was among a team of reporters awarded the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting. In 2002, she was among a handful of U.S. journalists who visited Saudi Arabia in the year after 9/11 to report on the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. More recently, she co-authored a series on mental health in the military that won a George Polk Award, the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting, and was a 2007 finalist for the Pulitzer in Investigative Reporting. Before writing for The Courant, she was a staff writer and columnist for the New Haven Register. You can contact Lisa at chedekel at c-hit.org
A study showing that women veterans commit suicide at six times the rate of civilian women has prompted U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and colleagues to propose legislation requiring the VA to develop gender-specific suicide prevention programs.
The "Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act" would expand the Department of Veterans Affairs’ annual evaluation of mental health and suicide-prevention programs to include data specific to female veterans. The act also would require the VA to determine which programs are the most effective for female veterans. “With suicide among women veterans happening at an alarming rate, (the proposed bill) will help save lives by ensuring VA is providing the care, counseling and outreach these veterans need,” Blumenthal said. Co-sponsors include Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
Connecticut saw a decline in drunk-driving fatalities in 2014, but the state still ranks among the highest in the country in the percentage of traffic deaths involving alcohol-impaired drivers, new federal data show. Ninety-seven of the 248 traffic fatalities in Connecticut, or 39 percent, involved drivers with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher, considered alcohol-impaired, according to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That rate is higher than the U.S. average of 31 percent, and is the fifth highest nationally -- behind Texas, North Dakota and Massachusetts, with rates of 41 percent, and Delaware, at 40 percent. Vermont had the lowest rate, at 20 percent. Total motor vehicle deaths in Connecticut declined from 276 in 2013 to 248, in line with a national trend.
The Army is not properly monitoring the prescribing of medications to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in active-duty soldiers to ensure that antipsychotics and sedatives are not being used, a new government report says. The report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommends that the Secretary of Defense direct the Army to monitor prescribing practices in order to detect medications that are discouraged under PTSD treatment guidelines. Those guidelines caution against the use of antipsychotics and benzodiazepines, a class of sedatives, because of their ineffectiveness and potential risk. “The Army does not monitor the prescribing of medications to treat PTSD on an ongoing basis,” says the report, led by the GAO’s director of health care, Debra Draper. “Without such monitoring, the Army may be unable to identify and address practices that are inconsistent with the guideline.”
The Department of Defense did not dispute the GAO recommendations, but argued that it has worked to reduce antipsychotic prescribing.
Eighteen Connecticut hospitals will lose 1 percent of their Medicare payments in 2016 as a penalty for comparatively high rates of avoidable infections and other complications, such as pressure sores and post-operative blood clots, according to new federal data. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced this month that 758 of the nation’s hospitals – about 23 percent of all eligible hospitals -- would be penalized for patient safety lapses in the second year of the Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program, which was mandated by federal health care reform. The penalties are based on rates of infections and other complications that occurred in hospitals between 2012 and 2014. The 18 hospitals in Connecticut include larger urban institutions, such as Yale-New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport hospitals, and smaller hospitals, such as Manchester Memorial and Windham. They are among hospitals in the worst performing quartile nationally on patient-safety measures including the frequency of central-line and catheter-related infections, post-operative sepsis and accidental laceration.
Connecticut slipped two spots, to sixth place, in an annual report on the nation’s health, with high scores on infectious disease prevention and immunizations, but relatively poor rankings on drug-related deaths and excessive drinking. The 2015 version of the longstanding America’s Health Rankings shows Connecticut remains among the top 10 healthiest states overall, behind Hawaii, Vermont, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Hampshire, in that order. In 2014, Connecticut ranked fourth after Hawaii, Vermont and Massachusetts. The report, issued by the United Health Foundation, shows Connecticut fares well on measures such as obesity, occupational fatalities, health insurance access, and the incidence of infectious disease. It is among the 10 best-ranked states in terms of cancer deaths (seventh), premature death (third), availability of primary care physicians and dentists (sixth and fifth, respectively), and percent of children living in poverty (eighth).
In the last 10 years, the average number of serious deficiencies cited in nursing home inspections in Connecticut has dropped by 50 percent, while reported nurse staffing levels have risen, and reports of residents injured by lapses in care have declined, federal data show. But a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) questions whether those measures – many of them self-reported by nursing homes – accurately reflect improvements in nursing home care, or instead are due to deficiencies in reporting and oversight. The GAO notes that the average number of consumer complaints per nursing home actually has climbed in 30 states since 2005, including a 20 percent increase in Connecticut. The ability of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to assess nursing home quality “is complicated by various issues with these data, which make it difficult to determine whether observed trends reflect actual changes in quality, data issues, or both,” the GAO said. The agency said that self-reporting of some of the data is among the problems that could undermine CMS’s much-touted Nursing Home Compare program, which rates nursing homes on a ‘five-star’ scale and is intended to help guide consumers’ decisions.
Connecticut had one of the highest rates in the nation of motor vehicle fatalities in which drivers were alcohol impaired in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available – 41 percent, compared to the national average of 31 percent, according to federal estimates. But the state also had one of the lowest rates nationally of reporting drunk-driving data in fatal accidents – a lapse that hampers efforts to gauge the impaired-driving problem and to develop and evaluate programs to address it, experts say. Connecticut reported blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) results for just 45 percent of fatally injured drivers -- far lower than the national average of 71 percent, according to data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Only Mississippi reported a lower rate of such testing. Thirty-four states reported testing rates of more than 70 percent.
Six dialysis facilities in Connecticut received low quality-of-care scores under newly updated federal Medicare ratings, while 11 facilities received the highest rating possible. Connecticut has 45 dialysis facilities in the Medicare program, all but four of them for-profit. Of the 41 for-profit centers, the majority are owned by two chains – DaVita, which has 24, and Fresenius Medical Care, with 13. The federal Medicare program rates dialysis facilities on a scale of one to five stars, based on nine measures of quality of care. The measures include mortality and hospitalization rates of patients, as well as rates of hypercalcemia, catheterization of more than 90 days, and the percentage of dialysis patients who had enough wastes removed from their blood during dialysis.
Connecticut hospitals reported fewer numbers of patients killed or seriously injured by falls or perforations during surgery or suffering from severe pressure ulcers in 2014 than in 2013, but the incidence of such “adverse events” still remains higher than in 2012, a new state report shows. The report by the Department of Public Health (DPH) shows that the total number of hospital adverse events, or errors, dropped by 12 percent -- from 534 in 2013, to 471 last year. Deaths or serious injuries from falls declined from 90 to 78; perforations during surgical procedures fell from 79 to 70; and life-threatening medication errors fell from six to one. The number of patients with serious pressure ulcers dropped from 277 to 245. Rates of all four of those incidents had climbed in 2013, in part because of an expansion of required reporting on pressure sores to include “unstageable” ulcers.
A Derby nurse who admitted taking kickbacks from a drug company that makes the powerful painkiller Subsys was pressured by sales representatives to increase her prescribing “so that the Subsys numbers would also increase,” according to court documents. In a hearing transcript recently made public, federal prosecutors charged that Heather Alfonso “continued to increase her prescribing of Subsys and to find more patients for whom she could prescribe the drugs” in exchange for a series of $1,000 kickbacks, totaling $83,000, from the company, Insys Therapeutics. Although the potent narcotic is approved only for cancer patients, some of the patients given Subsys by Alfonso “did not have a cancer diagnosis,” which would have meant that Medicare and private insurers would have refused to pay claims, federal prosecutors said. But “prior authorizations” submitted on behalf of patients falsely represented that they had cancer, misleading insurers into paying for the drug. It is not clear in the testimony who was involved in submitting the false authorizations to Medicare and insurers.