HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gets firsthand look at Minnesota patient-safety initiatives

Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hear from Ken Hollmen, a vice president at Health Partners, and trauma surgeon Gary Collins.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hear from Ken Hollmen, a vice president at Health Partners, and trauma surgeon Gary Collins.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, during a Thursday visit to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, touted a new $1 billion federal program aimed at bringing parts of the nation up to speed with Minnesota when it comes to patient safety.

The Partnership for Patients program is designed to lower the number of patient injuries in hospitals, reduce forced readmissions and increase coordination between all levels of hospital staff.

The initiative — funded by resources from the 2008 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — could save an estimated 60,000 lives and 1.8 million injuries over three years, on top of reducing national Medicare costs by $50 billion over the next decade.

The goal for the roughly 1,500 hospitals in the program is to reduce preventable injuries that occur in hospitals by 40 percent and lower the number of forced readmissions by 20 percent over the next three years.

Federal officials hope to make those striking gains by showing off systems — like Minnesota’s — where programs to reduce injury already have been implemented and by increasing collaboration among health care professionals, from the surgeons down to the operating-room cleaning crews.

While the federal government is just getting to the table when it comes to systemic initiatives to reduce patient injuries, Regions and other hospitals in Minnesota in some cases have had such safeguards in place for years.

“We’ve just announced [these safeguards] nationally a decade later,” Sebelius said.

By implementing new safety precautions, Regions has achieved a 20 percent cut in frail elderly readmissions and a 36 percent reduction in bloodstream infections among patients.

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius listens to Dr. Gary Collins, a trauma surgeon, during a tour of Regions Hospital.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius listens to Dr. Gary Collins, a trauma surgeon, during a tour of Regions Hospital.

“We’re far from claiming perfection,” said Mary Brainerd, president and CEO of Health Partners, which operates Regions. “But we can claim improvement.”

“Get ready for show-and-tell,” Sebelius said, “because it’s definitely coming.”

Sebelius is on a nationwide tour of hospitals, looking for ways to link together high-performing institutions. During a round-table discussion before an audience that included lawmakers and public officials, the secretary praised Minnesota’s health care system.

This was Sebelius’ second trip to Minnesota during her time in the Obama administration.

“I’m here to find out what a system [like Minnesota’s] looks like,” she said.

Also in attendance was Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a key supporter of federal health care reform.

Klobuchar said she thought it was fitting to welcome the secretary to Minnesota, “the place where the women are strong, the men are good looking and the hospitals are above average.”

Before the discussion, Sebelius toured an operating room where Dr. Gary Collins, a trauma surgeon, walked her through procedures that Regions uses to make sure physicians are operating on the correct person using proper techniques.

“Our goal is zero hospital-acquired conditions,” Collins said.

Klobuchar joined the group late. Glancing at the operating bed in the center of the room, surrounded by a giant machine hanging from the ceiling laden with screens, lights and gleaming instruments, she pointed and joked, “Looks like I’m going to take a nap.”

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