Street Talk: Don’t be like Detroit

Child’s play.
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Disability Advocates of Kent County caught wind of discrimination against disabled patients occurring in Detroit-area hospitals and wants to prevent the same from happening in West Michigan.

During a weekly check-in call with sister organizations of Disability Network/Michigan, Lori Hill, executive director of Disability Network Wayne County and Detroit, revealed disabled members of the community were being refused COVID-19 testing and care because of their disabled status.

“I’m willing to say, if I were to assess the different conversations I’ve had, there are at least 25% to 30% of people who would have those stories to tell you,” Hill said.

In response, Disability Advocates of Kent County Executive Director Dave Bulkowski issued a letter to Grand Rapids-area hospitals, reminding them of their constitutional obligation to ensure the same will not happen West Michigan.

“The main thing is, first and foremost, we were thanking the folks that were out there providing the care,” Bulkowski said. “We have a good health care system in Kent County, and we’re grateful for that … we want to make sure hospitals have their standards of care, and we don’t want that to be based on myths or fears.”

The Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a bulletin to health and governmental authorities to heed their obligations under federal laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination based on disability.

Included in the bulletin was a directive stating, “persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities.”

The bulletin also reminds government officials and health care providers obligations under federal civil rights laws to ensure all segments of the community are served by:

  • Providing effective communication with individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired through the use of qualified interpreters, picture boards and other means
  • Making emergency messaging available in plain language and in languages prevalent in the affected area(s) and in multiple formats, such as audio, large print and captioning, and ensuring websites providing emergency-related information are accessible
  • Addressing the needs of individuals with disabilities, including individuals with mobility impairments, individuals who use assistive devices or durable medical equipment, and individuals with immunosuppressed conditions including HIV/AIDS in emergency planning

Bulkowski also said Kent County is fortunate to have had a low rate of infection and patients in intensive care.

“It’s, again, just keeping folks aware of how to treat people fairly, so when a crisis happens, we’re not devolving to these myths and stereotypes,” Bulkowski said.

On the other side of the state, Hill said the main reason the problem arose in the first place was because there was a lack of education on patients’ rights.

“There’s been a lot of situations where these things have happened, because individuals don’t know what their rights are,” Hill said. “You’re entitled to a ventilator whether you have underlying health issues or not.”

Even more prohibitive to getting people care was the fact many members of the disabled population did not even know what COVID-19 was weeks into the pandemic, Hill said. Many frontline workers in the Detroit area did not have proper PPE until just a few weeks ago.

Disability Network Wayne County Detroit has been working to inform members of the disabled populace and their family members of the care they are entitled to, Hill said. The network features educational material on its website, https://www.dnwayne.org/, as well as live chats on its Facebook page where individuals can contact specialists with questions.

Making the grade

West Michigan’s medical workforce earned high marks in the middle of a global pandemic, according to a national survey.

Based on the most recent numbers from Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grades, almost every hospital in West Michigan received an A or B grade for its spring 2020 scorecards, with the exception of Ascension Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo, which received a C grade.

“With everything going on during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s such an incredible accomplishment for our hospital, and for all our colleagues who continue to deliver safe, high-quality care to patients,” said Gary Allore, president of Mercy Health Muskegon. “Our physicians, nurses, clinicians, as well as our Environmental Services and Nutrition teams and all who work in our hospitals, continue to be committed to providing the highest level of safety for our patients.”

The spring 2020 grades for all West Michigan hospitals are:

  • Ascension Borgess Hospital, Kalamazoo – C
  • Bronson Battle Creek – A
  • Bronson Methodist Hospital, Kalamazoo – B
  • Lakeland Regional Medical Center, St. Joseph – A
  • Mercy Health Hackley Campus, Muskegon – A
  • Mercy Health Mercy Campus, Muskegon – B
  • Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, Grand Rapids – A
  • Metro Health-University of Michigan Health, Wyoming – B
  • Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital, Grand Rapids – A
  • Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, Grand Rapids – B
  • Spectrum Health United Hospital, Greenville – A
  • Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital, Zeeland – A

Nationally, 33% of hospitals received an A on their spring 2020 scorecards, and 25% of hospitals received a B. Additionally, 74.1% of hospitals maintained the same grade they received in fall 2019.

All of the above West Michigan hospitals maintained the same grade they received in fall 2019 except for Blodgett Hospital in Grand Rapids, which went up from a B grade in fall 2019 to an A grade in spring 2020.

Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grades assigns grades of A, B, C, D and F to over 2,600 general acute-care hospitals across the nation twice annually.

The Safety Grade uses up to 28 national patient safety measures including hand hygiene, ICU physician staffing, nursing workforce, nurse communication, doctor communication and more.

Measures are scored based on information from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Leapfrog Hospital Survey and information from other supplemental data sources and are used to produce a single letter grade representing a hospital’s overall performance in keeping patients safe from preventable harm and medical errors.

Due to the limited availability of public data, The Leapfrog Group is not able to calculate a safety grade for the following types of hospitals:

  • Critical access hospitals
  • Long-term care and rehabilitation facilities
  • Mental health facilities
  • Federal hospitals like Veterans Affairs, Indian Health Services, etc.
  • Some specialty hospitals, such as surgery centers and cancer hospitals
  • Free-standing pediatric hospitals
  • Hospitals in U.S. territories
  • Hospitals that are missing scores for more than seven process/structural measures or more than five outcome measures

Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade’s methodology is peer-reviewed, and the results are free for the public to view on hospitalsafetygrade.org.

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