Statement by State Health Commissioner

State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., issued the following statement today in connection with Monday's New York Times article, "Weak Oversight Lets Bad Hospitals Stay Open":

The New York State Health Department, working in partnership with the Joint Commission, the federal government, and hospitals themselves, conducts one of the strongest hospital quality oversight programs in the nation. Unfortunately, New York Times writer Alex Berenson erroneously links the Berger Commission recommendations for a single unified governance structure for SUNY Upstate University and Crouse hospitals in Syracuse with quality issues (Weak Patchwork of Regulation Lets Bad Hospitals Stay Open, Dec. 8).

In fact, the Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century (Berger Commission) report raised no issues relating to quality at either SUNY Upstate or Crouse. Rather, its recommendation for unified governance was based on the need to eliminate excess bed capacity and reduce duplication of services at the two hospitals.

The Berger Commission said SUNY hospitals' "academic mission to train physicians and their mission to serve patients regardless of ability to pay must be preserved." Berger went on to state, "Neither institution can be eliminated completely; portions of both are required to meet the community's health needs and to sustain SUNY Upstate's medical education role."

Contrary to the New York Times story, SUNY Upstate and Crouse ARE moving forward to unify and downsize in accordance with the Berger Commission. The two hospitals contracted to submit to a unified governance authority under an independently led, 13-member Affiliation Council with responsibility for strategic planning and consolidation of services and operations. As recommended by the Berger Commission, the State Health Department is not approving requests for major equipment, building or services at the two hospitals unless these requests are recommended by the Affiliation Council.

Bed counts are being reduced by joint agreement, although the State Health Department found that the specific targets established by Berger had become outdated and would be unsustainable.

University Hospital takes the most difficult cases without complaint, addresses quality of care concerns forthrightly, and is a leader in recruiting, training and deploying physicians to meet the challenges of rural medicine.

We must continually strive to prevent the kind of patient experiences and outcomes described in Berenson's article. In 2007 the department conducted 2,634 hospital investigations and implemented enforcement actions that included $347,000 in fines as well as follow-up measures to increase patient safety. During 2007 the New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct took 303 final actions, 35 percent of which resulted in loss of a physician's license.

We have also implemented significant quality initiatives in collaboration with hospitals. New York's hospital incident reporting system is a national model in identifying and addressing quality problems. Our SPARCS hospital discharge database is one of the most extensive and widely used in the nation to examine quality. Our reports on cardiac surgery outcomes are the gold standard. We provide hospital and physician profiles on our website, a new hospital acquired infection reporting system implemented last year will provide the nation's best report cards on hospital infections, and beginning this year New York's Medicaid program will no longer pay for serious medical errors that should never occur.

The State Health Department, with excellent cooperation from the hospital sector, will continue to use these methods to assure the highest levels of quality and safety and take vigorous disciplinary and regulatory actions when warranted. We are also highly confident that the joining of University and Crouse under the single governance structure recommended by the Berger report will yield important financial, health care services, and quality enhancement for the Central New York Region.