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Whistleblowers need better protection.

The recent Veterans Administration hospital scandal revealed that at least 40 veterans lost their lives due to medical errors, including delays in diagnosis and treatment. These deaths at VA hospitals, however, are the tip of the iceberg. According to a study by NASA toxicologist John James, PhD, published in the September 2013 issue of the Journal of Patient Safety, with 440,000 deaths a year, the third leading cause of death in the U.S. is medical errors.

It is as if two 747s crash every day, claiming the lives of 1,200 people.

These deaths are not just numbers. They represent the tragic, preventable losses of our parents, spouses, children and friends. They represent the victims of wrong-site surgeries, the aorta sliced instead of the renal artery, overmedication due to a misplaced decimal point, a misdiagnosis leading to cardiac failure, a hospitalacquired infection from inadequate cleanliness of equipment or hands, a sponge left inside the surgical site. But patients are not the only victims.

VA hospital employees who attempted to report errors and system flaws that led to the death toll have suffered retaliation. Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, JD, from the Office of Special Counsel, the independent agency protecting whistleblowers, noted in The Washington Post that at least 120 VA staff, including doctors, have filed complaints of retaliation for speaking up about medical errors. And this is not unique to VA staff.

There are laws intended to protect health care whistleblowers, but telling the truth is risky business that often costs employees their jobs, their well-being and their professions. A February whistleblower report on the British National Health Service recommended stronger protections for health care whistleblowers and zero tolerance for retaliation. We must do the same in the United States if we are going to save the lives of patients and save our dedicated health care staff. ?

Karel Amaranth, MPH, MA Piermont, New York

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Title Annotation:LETTERS
Author:Amaranth, Karel
Publication:The Nation's Health
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:May 1, 2015
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