Why American Hospitals Are Still Deadly

The expression “people who empty the bedpans” is a synonym for people without skills in low- or no-status jobs whose

The expression “people who empty the bedpans” is a synonym for people without skills in low- or no-status jobs whose labors are dismissed. We should not be surprised, then, that people in such positions dismiss themselves and hold their work in the same contempt that others place on it.

Once upon a time, when jobs were scarce and unemployment compensation nonexistent, persons manning the mops and bedpans could not afford to do their jobs indifferently. That was the era of the WASP ascendency, when everybody, or nearly everybody, agreed the people at the top were much too good for such work but the people at the bottom, swarthy immigrants and such, were superbly fitted for unpleasant, even disgusting, laborious tasks.

That’s gone. We live in the American Dreamland, the Lake Woebegone era where everybody is above average and much too good for cleaning up hospital vomit or the bowel movements of incontinent old people in nursing homes. We are so flat-out equal that The New York Times accords convicted murderer-rapists with the title “Mr.”, and “equal” means it is beneath us to tackle emptying bedpans with conscientious care. And yet without such workers, top to bottom, thousands will probably go on dying needlessly in our hospitals.

The politicians tell us with that freshness of language for which they are cherished that to compete in the 21st century, every man jack of us must be trained for the information age. Such training is our right and, deprived of it by politicians of the other party, we are doomed to working out our days in fast-food franchises or as hospital orderlies. Afflicted with the Woebegone syndrome, none of us are suited for unskilled, unpleasant work, no matter how vital, how essential the work may be. Some organizations try to meet this contradiction by employing semantic gymnastics. Stock boys, check clerks and aisle sweepers are called associates, though the pay is the same as it always was. Whether calling secretaries executive assistants gets more or better work out of them is debatable, but it implicitly disparages and devalues the nature of the work to be done. If the people and the work they do in such jobs were respected, and respected by themselves, there would be no need to confer junior CEO titles on them.

Lack of trying is not the only problem, or “challenge,” to use another euphemism, facing hospitals. The figures show that hospitals with the worst records for killing their patients are, more often than not, institutions with too few nurses. The elements contributing to the shortage in high-level professionals must be left for another day, but suffice it to say it bears heavily on hospital improvement.

Up and down the line the American health edifice is in a fragile state. Death house hospitals, though an appalling fact, are not the only problems facing what can only be sarcastically called the health care system.

The truth about the system’s deficiencies is in urgent need of recognition by the Democratic politicians running for their party’s presidential nomination. Their shouted promises to bring health care to everyone are reckless and undeliverable. When John Edwards gets in front of the TV cameras and says that if elected, he is going to make annual physical checkups mandatory for everyone, he is talking crazy. If he were to do so, the system would crash.

First, let’s see if we can get everybody to wash their hands.

Why American  Hospitals Are Still Deadly