MGH and the water crisis

It’s a little bit of a drag living in the Boston area right now. We are still ordered to boil water for drinking, the Red Line isn’t running properly after an electrical fire, and the Red Sox are in second to last place (though they won tonight). Health care is a big economic magnet for the area, but the biggest system, Partners HealthCare, is getting hassled by the Boston Globe, state and federal governments.

So it was interesting to see the positive piece on Massachusetts General Hospital (part of Partners) in today’s Boston Globe. It detailed the steps MGH is taking to ride out the water crisis. Nothing heroic –just high quality, professional activities that have enabled the hospital to continue operating normally. Some commenters speculated that the Globe is just trying to make up for bashing Partners last week, and it may well be true. In any case it’s good to see something nice written about MGH in the Globe for a change.

At the morning meeting, [SVP of Patient Care and Chief Nurse Jeanette Ives] Erickson had wondered aloud whether she should try to keep down the number of hospitalized patients to avoid straining resources. With 96 patients scheduled to be transferred to Mass. General by this morning — and typically an equal number hospitalized daily on an emergency basis — Erickson considered diverting nonurgent cases; however, by the afternoon, she concluded that the hospital could accommodate all scheduled transfers.

The task of informing all of the hospital system’s 22,000 staffers about new sanitation standards is far-reaching. MGH employees are spread among more than a dozen health clinics and research labs that go beyond the main Boston campus. A number of surgeries are conducted in off-site locations outside Boston, and supervisors emphasized that all nurses and medical staff should be using a special kind of foam to wash their hands, and avoiding any final contact with tap water before procedures. Supervisors talked about the need to deliver this new foam to all of the Mass. General facilities — but preserve resources.

On another topic, the Globe itself has been pretty weak in the face of the water crisis. I was particularly unimpressed by yesterday’s main story about the situation, which included some inanities about not drinking water from Amtrak restrooms (which has nothing to do with this water pipe break and is true every day of the year) but very little useful information.

Attorney General Martha Coakley, with nothing better to do now that she’s lost the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority, is talking about investigating price gouging on water. What a joke. The economist in me actually wishes stores had increased the price of water to discourage people from clearing the shelves without thinking about the cost.

May 3, 2010

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