Unseen dangers in hospitals put patient’s lives at risk

When we get sick or injured we like to think that there’s always a place and a person who will be able to take care of us, typically doctors and nurses in hospitals.

Every now and then, there will be a news story undermining the trust that we have in our medical professionals, like a sponge being left inside a patient’s body by a doctor during surgery, or a nurse giving a patient the wrong medication.

What I didn’t know was how common these problems were until I spoke with industry experts and looked into the issues personally. Aliria Munoz, ICU registered nurse and clinical assistant, spoke to me about what she experienced while working at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.

“Short staffing in hospitals has been getting worse, particularly over the past 10 years,” she said. “As a result, hospitals have stopped being conducive to good nursing care, at least in my experience.”

It’s not just nurses, either. Doctors have been guilty of health violations such as not washing their hands before administering medical care. As Munoz describes it, “A doctor will come into the room and start talking to a patient to see how they’re doing.

“He wont wash his hands because he says he’s just going to speak with them, but then more often than not the patient will complain about something that’s hurting, and the doctor will reach down and briefly lay hands on the patient to figure out what it is.

“That’s all it takes to spread dangerous germs to someone who currently has a very weak immune system.”

Other events, such as a patients falling out of their beds or even attempting suicide sometimes go unreported. In fact, medical error is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming 251,000 lives every year.


“Reporting events like this to the hospital is very important because it is the system that causes the problems to occur, and it would help with finding systemic solutions,” said Munoz.

Other errors, that may seem harmless on the surface such as a patient receiving Tylenol when they needed a different drug, can cause anaphylactic shock (also known as a severe allergic reaction). Again this improper medicine allocation often goes unreported because the nurses or doctors either forget they made the mistake or don’t think it’s a big deal.

“One reason why we have medicines going to the wrong patients is because each patient’s chart is crammed with repetitive and excessive information,” said Munoz. “A nurse has to go down each box on each list and check, double check, and triple check to make sure everything is correct, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it gets redundant quickly.”

There are certain fail-safes that hospitals have installed to protect against this. In the last 10 years, for example, medical scanners have been installed in hospitals across the country that allow nurses to simply scan the code and see exactly what each patient needs.


But as Munoz warns, it’s important to remember that there’s faults in every system, and that the barcode system is not perfect. According to the article cited above, as many as 30 percent of U.S. hospitals did not even have barcode scanning systems as recently as 2012.

None of this is meant to scare you away from hospitals, as they are undoubtedly vital to the health of our communities. But the problems discussed in this piece should be in the back of everyone’s mind the next time they make a visit, because as much as we’d like to believe otherwise, healthcare professionals are far from perfect.

Photo credit: footage.framepool.com

Peru and the condition of the developing country

What comes to mind when you think of Peru? Is it mountainous ruins? Is it fresh ceviche and cheap pisco sours? Or is it a façade of happiness set in place to mask the despair of being trapped in a developing country with very limited social mobility?

I spent four weeks in Peru on a service-learning program with my university, and during the course of my stay I volunteered at an all-girls orphanage, visited a small village on an island in Lake Titicaca, and stayed with a very hospitable local family in Cusco. Although my time was limited, I learned more in the month I was there than I would have during an entire semester at school.

What I want to focus on in this article is the economy of developing nations verses the economy of the United States. I’ve seen poverty in the last 28 days that would shock any member of my social class (the 10%) but what shocked me wasn’t the condition of Peru’s poor; It was the condition of their middle class. It appeared to be identical to the middle class of the United States!

I was fortunate enough to stay with families that were considered middle class by Peruvian standards, and what I realized during my stay was that the quality of life I was experiencing was virtually the same as the quality of life for many of my middle-class American friends. When I say quality of life, I’m referring to housing, transportation, food budget, and clothing. It was all the same as in the States.

So what does this mean? Has Peru improved so much over recent years that they have caught up to the American class structure? Or has the United States seen a decline in its middle-class so gradual that we’ve failed to notice the Third World countries whose standard of living we’re rapidly approaching? After my time in Peru, I’m convinced it is the latter.

Let me give you an example: In Peru, specifically in the city of Cusco, the poor and the middle class are mixed into the same neighborhoods. There is no clear physical divide between upper and lower income housing like there is in the U.S. No gated communities, no private neighborhoods, no guard houses to raise the mechanical arm that allows your car to pass through. It’s all so integrated because the position of the middle class in Peru is not far removed from that of the poor, again just like in the U.S.

In the United States, as with Peru, the line between the poor and the middle class is vanishing, and it has been for some time. The gated comminutes we see in America are not actually home to our middle class, they are home to our upper class.

This brings me to the sobering realization that I’ve come across during my time abroad: with the ever-widening wealth gap in the United States, we have gone from a nation of lower, middle, and upper, to a nation of poor and rich, with little to no in-between. Worse still, the poor outnumber the rich by a staggering ratio.

Below I’ve linked a video explaining the situation in detail. It’s well worth the six minutes it takes to watch.


What’s more, I learned from local guides and academics one of the primary reasons for Peru’s status as a developing country: The Spanish stripped the land of the vast majority of its gold and silver deposits during colonization. And judging by the advanced state of the Incan society around the period of Spanish arrival in Peru (1532) it’s fair to say that in all likelihood Peru would be a developed nation today had the Spanish never landed there.

So what has been going wrong for Peru lately? The Spanish were thrown out in 1824 and Peru has had nearly 200 years to reinvent itself as a thriving country. Well, the short answer is international corporations.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned during the program was the story of how big businesses take advantage of developing countries to boost their bottom line. Evidently, although the wealthy countries of the world give a total of about $130 billion in aid every year to developing countries, international corporations secure $900 billion annually by taking advantage of corporate tax loopholes.

By setting up shop in Peru and other developing nations, big businesses have been able to avoid paying massive amounts of taxes due to a form of tax avoidance called trade mispricing. So even though poor countries receive $130 billion annually from their wealthy counterparts, those same countries are losing nearly eight times that amount of money to corporations who take advantage of them. But that isn’t even the full extent of it.

Trade mispricing and multiple other factors such as debt service and trade rules lead to $2 trillion flowing from poor countries to rich countries every year. And the situation is getting worse. Rich countries are 80 times richer than poor countries today, while they were just three times richer 200 years ago.

This begs the question: Who’s developing who?

This concise and highly informative video brings the issue into focus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWSxzjyMNpU

A couple more discouraging facts about the injustices of global trade and business:

The systematic distruction of America’s electric trolley cars

A story many do not know is that of the early days of the light rail in the United States. The fact that it is uncommon knowledge is a shame, because the repercussions from what happened in those early days of public transportation can still be seen clearly on the streets of the U.S. to this day.

In the early 20th century, it was said that one could travel from New York to San Diego by simply hopping from one trolley to another. Unsurprisingly, competition was forming around the same time, in this case it was the bus lines.

Within a matter of years, wealthy bus line owners from all around the country bought up rail after rail and systematically destroyed all of the trollies. This was to ensure big oil’s grasp on the commuters of America by forcing them to ride oil-powered buses rather than electric street cars.

The result had a devastating effect on our environment and infrastructure. Millions of tons of CO2 from city buses has rocketed into the atmosphere and our roads have been clogged and eroded by the heavy, bulky machines.

The history is as follows: Corporate giants Mack Truck, Firestone, Phillips, General Motors and Standard Oil banded together in the 1930’s and 40’s to make a “secret company” who’s task was to buy all the passenger cars and trolley lines. In the documentary Pump, author Edwin Black who wrote about this topic at length in Internal Combustion,  gave a chilling summary of what happened next.

“… the rails were pulled up, the trolley cars themselves were burned in public bonfires, and they replaced them with smelly, oil-consuming motor buses. Eventually, the federal government discovered that this was a conspiracy to subvert mass transit. All five corporations were indicted, they were tried, they were found guilty. A corporate conspiracy was responsible for destroying the trolleys in America.”


The word “conspiracy” always insights skepticism among those who hear it used to describe major historical events, but unlike in most cases, the conspiracy to destroy America’s electric rail system is well-supported by documented evidence. And it all starts with a company called National City Lines.

First, a little background:

National City Lanes was founded in Minnesota in 1920 as a modest local transport company operating two buses. Part of the operations were reorganized into a holding company in 1936 and expanded about two years later with funding from General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California, and Phillips Petroleum.

The five companies involved NCL in their pocketbooks for the sole purpose of acquiring local transit systems throughout the United States. This eventually became known as the General Motors streetcar conspiracy.

The plan was as merciless as it was intricate. When National City Lines would acquire a transit system, the trolley rails would be ripped up, the overhead wires would be cut down, and the system would be converted to buses within 90 days.

General Motors scrapped electrically powered streetcars and trolley-buses, which they did not make, and substituted them with gasoline powered buses that they manufactured. This way, every aspect of supply and demand was tilted in their favor. The cars and busses that GM designed and manufactured would burn Standard Oil gasoline and roll on Firestone rubber tires.


The man behind all this? Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., a highly intelligent man who studied at MIT and was hired by General Motors to expand auto sales and maximize profits by eliminating streetcars.

The statistics on public transit at the time are truly awe-inspiring, and one can almost see why Mr. Sloan might have felt threatened enough to take such drastic action.  At the time, 90 percent of all trips were by rail, chiefly electric rail; only one in 10 Americans owned an automobile.

There were 1,200 separate electric street and interurban railways, a thriving and profitable industry with 44,000 miles of track, 300,000 employees, 15 billion annual passengers, and $1 billion in income. Virtually every city and town in America of more than 2,500 people had its own electric rail system, but not for long.

As the largest depositor in the nation’s leading banks, GM enjoyed financial leverage over the electric railways, which relied heavily on these banks to supply their capital needs. According to U.S. Department of Justice documents, officials of GM visited banks used by railways in Philadelphia, Dallas, Kansas City and other locations, and, by offering them millions in additional deposits, persuaded their rail clients to convert to motor vehicles.

And where rail systems were publicly owned and could not be bought, like the municipal railway of St. Petersburg, Florida, GM bribed officials to get their way. According to FBI files, General Motors provided complimentary Cadillacs to railway officials who converted to bus-based systems.


The punishment:

In 1936 National City Lines and General Motors was found guilty of subverting public transit by a federal court. The two were fined $5,000 apiece, while their management staff were fined $1 each.

However, later Justice Department investigations got nowhere because by 1932 GM had created the National Highway Users Conference, a powerful Washington lobby to push for more freeways and silence discussion of diesel or gasoline pollution. Alfred P. Sloan headed the conference for 30 years until another GM man took over. Today, the commission is headed by Greg Cohen, President and CEO of the NHUC.

In 1949, National City Lines were again convicted in Federal court (and in 1951 the conviction was upheld) for destroying the electrified rail and electric bus transit systems in 44 American cities.

E.J. Quinby, president and founder of the Electric Railroader’s Association, bravely persuaded the government to bring the lawsuit against GM and its powerful automotive allies.

Despite these convictions, the government refused to punish the automotive giants beyond the small symbolic fines described above.


Yet still, more attempts to hold the guilty companies accountable were made. In 1972, then U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy called for a Federal investigation into G.M.’s alleged conspiratorial destruction of the U.S. rail industry and public mass transit industry, in order to facilitate the sale of automobiles.

This led to Senate Bill 1167 of 1974 “The Industrial Reorganization Act” and the now little known Ground Transportation Hearings of April 1974 – which were sidetracked by the resignation of then U.S. President Richard Nixon on August 8, 1974.

To date there has not been another attempt to prosecute the five companies involved with taking down America’s light rail and electric trolley systems.


What seems overwhelmingly clear is not only were we as Americans robbed of the opportunity to have efficient public transit on the same level as other developed nations, but we were also robbed of the opportunity to have less polluted air and less congested roads. The good news is even if our government cant adequately punish companies for their crimes, the past does not have to remain the status quo.

If we come together as a society and make it known that we care enough about this issue to do something about it, we can re-instate the rail systems, reduce the number of buses in use across the country, build more trollies and light rail systems throughout cities, and maybe even reclaim the day when it could be truthfully uttered that one can travel from New York to San Diego by light rail simply my switching trains again and again.

Photo source: http://www.fuelfreedom.org

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