If you’ve read anything I’ve written before about surgical centers, you’ll get a pretty good idea that I’m not a fan.
Ambulatory surgery centers are outpatient facilities that were originally designed to allow surgeons to benefit financially from the lucrative facility fee charges that would otherwise go to hospitals.
From my experience in investigating and handling Texas medical malpractice lawsuits against surgery centers, I believe that many of them aren’t as safe a place to have a surgical procedure as a hospital operating room. There are two reasons for this.
First, general acute care hospitals are staffed with physicians and other personnel to handle emergencies. If a patient goes into respiratory or cardiac arrest, or has other complications during surgery, hospitals are much more likely to have all of the necessary resuscitation equipment and healthcare providers on hand to respond quickly.
Surgery centers, on the other hand, typically have a bare-bones staff. Don’t get me wrong, they have enough staffing to handle surgeries that go smoothly. However, I’ve seen multiple cases where, when something went wrong during the operation, there was a significant delay in managing the resuscitation response. Those precious seconds and minutes can lead to permanent brain injury and death.
Second, most surgical centers have much leaner support staff than hospital operating rooms. As a result, sometimes corners are cut. This can be a serious threat to patient safety.
For example, there is a pending class action lawsuit against the Health Plus Surgery Center, in Saddle Brook, New Jersey. State investigators revealed that the surgery center may have exposed over 3000 patients to HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C because of poor drug storage methods, an outdated infection control plan, and unacceptable sterilization practices.
In a curious and, I believe, unwise twist, the surgery center is only paying for testing of its patients if they agree to have the tests done at a hospital owned by the same company as the surgery center.
The state health department released a study in December 2018 revealing that the operating rooms were not properly cleaned and disinfected between procedures. An inspection found that the surgery center was not properly storing sterilized items and may have been using sterilized instruments that had rust-like stains.
Before going to law school, I was a hospital administrator. In that role, I sat on several hospital committees that monitored policies and procedures, incident reports, and infection control. The motivations of that committee were to avoid mistakes and, when they happen, learn from them.
In my experience as a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, many ambulatory surgery centers don’t dedicate the staff and time to the important roles of monitoring and improving patient safety. Instead, they’re more focused on getting patients in and out of the operating rooms as quickly as possible.
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Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. A member of the board of directors of the Houston Bar Association, he was honored, in 2018, by H Texas as one of Houston’s top lawyers. Also, in 2018, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.