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Letter: Saving Ourselves From A Health Care Battle

Maintaining a framework for good health and wellbeing is one of the most precious things that individuals have, yet our health care system can be what put us at great risk. Collectively, we recognize that there are problems with our health care system and we want to see them solved. Many Americans even realize that our health system costs twice as much as most other health systems, yet there are still high rates of mediocre results. One major problem I have personally seen in my profession and even personal life is the issue of nutritional status of patients in hospitals and nursing homes. Despite federal and state regulations, many studies have reported that there are as many as 40 percent of all patients admitted to the hospital are undernourished and this percentage increases once patients have been in the hospital for one week. Malnutrition often goes unrecognized and untreated, which leads to prolonged hospital stays, negative outcomes and increased health care costs.

To put this information in perspective, it may be helpful to discuss real life stories that I have encountered while living on Long Island. When I was volunteering at a local nursing home just a few years ago, I became friends with a 72-year-old veteran, Bill. He had type 2 diabetes with extremely high levels of blood sugar and was placed on a restricted diet. However, at least once a day, he was delivered a regular food meal including cakes and cookies. Needless to say, he became sick on a daily basis and physicians could not figure out why his medication was not working. It took months to realize the wrong deliverance of his food plan was the culprit of the onset of severe illness. It was as simple as that.

Recently, a 25-year-old friend of mine was in a terrible motorcycle accident. He broke his jaw and naturally his physician ordered a liquid and soft diet. He was extremely tired during his stay in the hospital and what boggled my mind was the deliverance of his first meal. Right after recovery, there was a whole apple and a piece of mystery meat sitting on his tray.

For a person who just broke his jaw, how was he expected to consume something of that nature?  He was in so much pain that he could not feed herself, so his tray just stayed at his bedside until someone came to pick it up. Not only was he served the wrong meal, there was absolutely no one there to assist him. Without proper nutritional intake and deliverance, how is a person expected to recover 100 percent?

In the end, it is simple to say that our health care system is incoherent and disconnected with multiple opportunities for medical error/omissions, but the truth is that we have the benefit of being cared for by well-meaning, skilled clinicians. For patients and their families, it is essential to be actively involved: that means questioning, requesting clarification, confirming each health care intervention and making it a necessity before, during and after care. This is why there are organizations like PULSE of New York, where I serve as project coordinator. We are dedicated to raising awareness about patient safety throughout Long Island and advocate for achieving efficiency without sacrificing quality. I personally have a great a deal of faith in the health care system within the United States, but it is up to us to speak up about problems as soon as we see them so we can prepare for future enhancements.

Anita Haridat, MS