Md. must protect hospital patients

Scott Dance lays out the controversy surrounding the Maryland Hospital Patient’s Bill of Rights (“Patient dumping incident spurs Maryland Senate to pass Patient’s Bill of Rights, but House leaders leery,” March 9). Following the inhumane treatment of a vulnerable patient who was left out on the streets of Baltimore in only a hospital gown in January, an update to Maryland’s weak 1978 law was proposed to the Maryland General Assembly for the third year. Thirty-six Maryland legislators came forward to sponsor or co-sponsor a bill that garnered the support of 23 advocacy groups including AARP, NAACP, the American Association of University Women as well as the Black Caucus and Maryland’s attorney general.

Despite this groundswell of support, the original bill (SB 530/HB 562) was not allowed to move forward in either the Senate or House committees. Instead, in an action that undermines the rights of hospital patients, the Maryland Hospital Association successfully proposed amendments to the bill which would even further reduce patient rights below those of the 1978 law by eliminating rights ensured by the Joint Commission. This amended bill has now passed in the Senate. Rights that disappeared from the MHA-amended bill include treatment without discrimination, involvement in your discharge plan, management of pain, and five others.

Despite Maryland’s extremely low national ratings in patient safety and satisfaction, and the longest emergency room wait times in the United States, Marylanders continue to be denied fundamental rights as hospital patients. The current lack of transparency and the inconsistency of communication of rights to patients can also lead to social injustice. For example, the Patient’s Bill of Rights posted by Bon Secours Hospital has fewer than half the rights posted by Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton and the MHA argue that existing state and federal rules are sufficient to protect hospital patients. Clearly, this is not the case if hospitals are turning vulnerable patients out into the streets. We need better consumer protection of hospital patients which requires that rights be codified in a law that is understandable to patients, not just to hospitals.

Anna Palmisano, Eileen Menton, John James and Patty Skolnik, Rockville

The writers represent, respectively, Marylanders for Patient Rights, AAUW-MD, Patient Safety America and Citizens for Patient Safety.

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