Group backs a bill on Beacon Hill requiring hospitals to cut infection rates to zero, and make those rates public; notify patients of potentially adverse medical events.

Medical mistakes - and a doctor's misdeeds - have taken their toll on Geri Chimera of Marlborough.


"If I was CEO of a hospital, I would want my hospital to be the best it could be and cut down on errors," said Chimera, 37, who has faced numerous problems from medical professionals, including broken bones, days of unconsciousness and undergoing a surgical procedure where the doctor walked out of the operation.


"I have suffered a lot of negligent care over the years," she said.


Chimera is a member of the Consumer Quality Council, an advisory panel of former patients who have experienced medical mistakes firsthand.


The council is organized by Health Care for All, a Boston-based advocacy group pushing for better quality medical coverage and public reporting of accidents and infection rates in Massachusetts hospitals.


"Massachusetts has really been hands-off in terms of hospitals and hospital behavior," said Fawn Phelps, director of policy with the organization.


During an editorial board meeting with the Daily News, representatives from the group outlined a bill on Beacon Hill requiring hospitals to cut infection rates to zero, and make those rates public; notify patients of potentially adverse medical events; plus release reports on so-called "never events" such as wrong-person and wrong-organ surgeries.


The measure would also allow doctors to apologize for mistakes or a misdiagnosis without fear those statements could be used in a lawsuit, plus offer response teams to deal with patients' problems while in a hospital.


"It's a cultural shift in the Massachusetts medical establishment that this (infection rate) really can be zero," said Phelps.


According to figures supplied by Health Care for All, medical errors injure about 1 million Americans each year at an estimated cost of between $17 billion to $29 billion. About 100,000 Americans die annually from those mistakes.


The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, and state Rep. Denise Provost, D-Somerville, plus has support from more than 40 legislators.


About 19 states offer some level of public reporting of hospital mistakes, said Deborah Wachenheim, consumer health quality coordinator with Health Care for All. She said communication problems between patients and medical workers - and among workers themselves - is a common problem in hospital care.


Wachenheim said workers at some hospitals are working too quickly, and basic information - like whether a patient is taking prescription drugs - is not communicated between staff members.


Chimera, who weighs 65 pounds and uses a wheelchair, said a lack of communication is partly to blame for her hospital troubles. At age 9, Chimera underwent surgery to insert rods into her leg bones, but her doctor walked out of the operation and never completed the work.


Chimera and her parents did not learn the truth until about two years later - that her doctor was having an affair with her physical therapist and both left for Philadelphia.


"I still don't know if that surgery helped or hurt me," said Chimera.


Despite warning hospital workers about her fragile right wrist, she received an IV in that area and the wrist was broken. She also received a general anesthesia at another time, and because of her low body weight went unconscious for five days. She only awoke when she was given a blood transfusion to purge the drugs from her body, she said.


"That lack of listening has really taken its toll," she said.


Health Care for All is working to establish regional consumer quality councils around the state, and Chimera will participate in a forum for forming a MetroWest-area council on Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. at Bayside Elder Services on Waverley Street in Framingham.


She said some doctors have been willing to listen to her concerns and adjust their "old habits" when treating her.


"There are doctors who are willing to change the way medicine is done," said Chimera, who receives treatment at Boston hospitals.


John Hilliard of The MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, Mass.) can be reached at 508-626-4449 or jhilliar@cnc.com.