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Is transparency invisible in the industry?

Editor’s note: This article was written by guest blogger Anthony Cirillo, FACHE, ABC, a healthcare marketing and experience management expert and expert guide in assisted living for about.com. For more information about the author, please see our About page.

I have come across three totally separate stories about the industry that point to one theme: openness of communication and transparency of reporting.

One report from the U.S. Department of Labor showed that nursing home workers are accidentally injured on the job at a higher rate than workers in other sectors, including construction, manufacturing, and mining. Commenting on the report, Labor Department Secretary Hilda Solis said, “Employers must know what injuries and illnesses are occurring in their workplaces in order to identify and correct systemic issues that put their workers at risk. We are concerned with poor record-keeping practices and programs that discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses.”

So there is one allegation that somehow the industry is hiding something.

Then it was announced that roughly 300 nursing homes could expect inspections by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA is targeting nursing and personal care homes with 20 or more employees that have a days away, restricted, or transferred rate at or over 16 days.

Long-term care facilities are being targeted by the agency due to the high rates of injuries and illnesses experienced by workers. And could it be that OSHA has targeted the industry because one of its sister agencies suspects the number of incidences are under-reported? I would think so.

Then, Laura M. Wagner, PhD, RN, GNP-BC, assistant professor of nursing at New York University College of Nursing reported that nursing homes need to improve communications processes and policies to make it easier for nurses to disclose errors.

While there is increased attention given to the reporting of harmful errors, almost one-third of the respondents to a study Wagner conducted said they were less likely to disclose errors if they believed they might be sued or reprimanded. Respondents said they thought current efforts toward supporting and educating nurses who might report errors were inadequate.

So what does it come down to? As usual it’s about the money. Because I would imagine that if the true number of workplace accidents were reported, workers compensation would be through the roof. And of course, not reporting medical errors shields you, temporarily, from any lawsuit repercussions. Yet all of this does nothing to both protect healthcare workers, and more importantly, the patients they are caring for on a daily basis.

More disturbing is that when I read these studies, I could not find the point/counterpoint. Who is weighing in from the industry on these issues? Because guess what, these are all public relations nightmares about to unfold. And no amount of industry advertising will dispel the myths about how bad nursing homes are until the industry embraces transparency, or at the very least, reacts to these studies to report what they are doing.