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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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On accuracy and accountability

Stafford Hospital

Sometimes I really dislike this new world that I live and work in. I dislike that accuracy no longer matters. I dislike that no one is accountable for their actions.

I say this because of the blog I did here yesterday and the story that appeared in the newspaper this morning. Both were about Facebook postings from last week that said that three people had died of sepsis at Stafford Hospital in the last month. The postings that I saw were on two people’s individual Facebook pages. The postings were identical, an all-caps, cut-and-paste job, warning people to avoid Stafford Hospital. A hospital spokeswoman said that there was a third posting, but I never saw it.

It’s not clear who wrote the original. I wrote to both people, via Facebook, and asked if they would talk with me. Neither responded.

As far as I can tell, the posting is inaccurate. Stafford did not have three sepsis deaths in the last month. It appears that they did have at least one death, but a spokeswoman insists they did not have three. Sepsis is rare but not unheard of. Stafford had four deaths from sepsis last year.

The story reminded me that, with the Internet, everyone is a publisher. That’s a wonderful development, but aren’t there responsibilities that go with being a publisher?

The publisher that I work for insists that I put my name on my work, and that I strive for accuracy. I’m sure my critics will jump in here to say that I don’t always reach that goal, but I try. I check and double-check before publication, and I correct errors when I find out about them.

That appears to be a lost virtue. Now you can say anything you want about anyone, and you can say it from the gutless security of an anonymous screen name. And it doesn’t matter who is hurt by your words. As a local doctor said this morning in an e-mail: “It is frightening that some crackpot can post: ‘Stafford Hospital is processing and serving cadavers in the cafeteria lunch line’ and half the public would believe it.”

Unbelievable. If history is a succession of cycles, I can’t wait for this one to end.

(Yesterday’s blog post is here, and today’s story is here.)


  • Amanda

    I dont believe that someone made it up.. they may have had a very bad experience with them as well. i know i did dec 27th 2010 and i will never ever go there again even if its life threatening! i just dont think people who work there take things seriously with their patients. i have my reasons and dont want to publicize them with everyone but would like to speak to someone about it, as well as my follow physician thought it ws cause for concern when i was told i had a eptopic pregnancy and currently was miscarrying which wasnt so at all! i dont feel that this place takes care or concern that rooms are clean and sterilized as well i have a real concern with the ultrasound technician i was seen by. as for now from my experience i will never go back and do not recommend this place to anyone i know!

  • Peggy Crewe

    Thank you, Jim! I’ve been waiting for a reporter to speak on this issue! I’ve seen this so much more frequently as of late. Someone logs onto their Facebook and sees that one of there friends has something dramatic posted and at the end it says, “copy and paste to your status.” These people that actually do copy and paste are probably doing so with the best of intentions. The post they saw was probably posted by someone they know and trust and as such take the post as the truth. People need to realize the old saying goes for internet communications as well as print….Don’t believe EVERYTHING you read!!

  • COD

    The problem is not so much with the idiots making anonymous accusations, it is with the idiots that believe them with no backup information. Anonymous publishing has a long and important history in this country. In fact, without Thomas Paine publishing Common Sense anonymously, this country may have never existed.

    We may not know the original source, but the people on Facebook that repeated it certainly are opening themselves up to a libel action, aren’t they? Not that I’m suggesting that Stafford Hospital go that route…

  • ryan

    Maybe they misread something.
    Maybe they meant to say “year” and accidentally put “month,” in which case the number would be lower than the truth,
    Maybe if you hadn’t written a story about an it nobody else would have seen or heard about it and now more people are going to see and believe the false report (see: The Streisand Effect). People who read this will now associate Stafford Hospital with sepsis, and sometime down the lien they won’t be able to remember whether the alarming rate of death was true or false, but they’ll know they read about ti somewhere.

    Sincerely and non-anonymously,
    Ryan A. Brosmer
    (804) 300-7178

  • LarryG

    It’s a different world now and organizations like Hospitals need to proactively provide these kinds of statistics rather than make themselves vulnerable to whispering campaigns on internet steroids.

    so I thin the best defense against this kind of thing is to have a link on the Hospital website to it’s statistics – all the time -for anyone to see to immediately refute inaccurate claims and to put the focus on the people making the claims instead of the hospital having to defend itself.

    In other words, the best defense is a good offense.

    When you don’t make it easy for people to see the stats up front – you make yourself vulnerable to false claims in the internet age.

  • Kerry

    Thomas Paine was an intellectual. What he wrote had merit. He detested ignorance and believed it inexcusable for those with the available resources to educate the ignorant. This article is right on! The majority of information, opinions, etc… posted online is the fodder of the ignorant and oft times cowardly. It makes me shudder to think how difficult it will be to determine the truth from fiction in a few more years. There are few Thomas Paine’s around on the internet.

  • LarryG

    the internet has exposed a truth about humans and information that is embarrassing and that is that we do not think as critically as we must when data is free and abundant but it’s not “information”.

    And there are those who see this as opportunity for misinformation and propaganda.

    It used to take the govt controlling the media to promote disinformation but now anyone can because too many of us do not or do not know how to vet information.

    Not that the printed word was always truth either as we are discovering….

    But in this internet world – institutions can no longer remain silent and husband information without at the same time making themselves vulnerable to outright false information that can spread as fast as a herd of spooked critters…

    Institutions must proactively disclose information or risk disinformation.

  • TPKeller

    Jim, your points are very worthy of discussion.

    I agree that in general, accountability is good. I use my real name, or abbreviation thereof, for my comments here and on the newspaper articles. In my “on-line” presence, which consists of various message-forum venues, I make a point to “sign” my name at the bottom of each post. I use it as a reminder to myself that I don’t want to post something that I would be unwilling to have associated with my name. I think that helps to keep me civil in an environment that allows for very quick and unfiltered responses that I may later regret.

    There are forums where I post anonymously, but for very specific reasons having to do with safety and crime deterrence. Even there, I always “sign” the pseudonym that I have chosen to use, for the same reasons.

    I do also believe there is a place for anonymous publishing. As you note, publishing comes with responsibility. When one publishes, they put their reputation on the line. When one publishes anonymously, some of that responsibility shifts to the reader. Rather than relying on the reputation of the author, the reader must then use their own judgement to read, understand, evaluate and react to the information presented.

    In this particular case, I would suggest that the two or three Facebook users exhibited poor judgement in re-posting the information without verification.

    Although I can understand why Stafford Hospital would be unhappy about this matter, I believe you over-reacted in publishing a column and now two about it. This incident is nothing more than a “chain letter” of the pre-1980s, a “virus hoax”, or “gang initiation hoax” e-mail of the 90s, and the Facebook Status Chain Posting of the 2000s. It’s what Snopes was invented for, and look how long they’ve been around. The newspaper coverage has done two things. First, it probably helped to stop the status chain posting, but since not all Facebook readers read your column, it could not have been the sole reason for that, and second, it gave the status exposure to tens of thousands more people than would have ever seen it.

    I am not on the inside, I have no possible way to know if the information is all true, partly true, or not at all true. But I do have a reason to ask that question now.

    Here’s the most important point, which I alluded to in my comment on your first post. Entities, such as Stafford Hospital, MUST learn that unlike years past, the days of total information control are gone, long gone. We are in the new age of Consumerism, where much more information about everything is available to consumers. I was not at all impressed with the response from Stafford Hospital, because they replied to a question about apples with an answer about oranges. That’s the kind of thing you simply cannot get away with in this day and age of information. People see through it and will continue to demand answers.

  • LarryG

    I’m on board with TP’ comments and would further point out the irony of FLS requiring everyone to get a Facebook Account to comment on their news stories – from what I gather to hold people more responsible for the content of their comments.

    This implicates the FLS also in not understanding how the internet is working now days.

    There are a ton of folks on Facebook who readily are identified to God and County who are better off being anonymous.

  • George

    Let’s just make sure Wikipedia is updated to reflect the latest news of the Sepsis Outbreak of 2011 at Stafford Hospital. That’s all we ask for.

  • Eric

    Posting something as your facebook status isn’t “publishing” information, since the status update is intended for ‘friends’ of the person making the post. I personally think that people should be allowed to post whatever they want as their facebook status. (Free Speech and all that)

    If I make a status update that an area restaurant gave me food poisoning, and a friend of mine also got food poisoning from the same place, so I recommend that people think twice before eating there… is there anything wrong with that? ‘COD’, are you saying that I could be sued by the restaurant?

    People post all sorts of junk on their facebook status… I hope there isn’t a newspaper article every time someone posts incorrect information…

  • suzy

    A rant about anonymous writing for this issue doesn’t fit. It was written on Facebook which isn’t anonymous.

    As for other issues, anything that gets people writing is a good thing.

  • George

    I agree with LarryG (and that is not always the case). The hospital should link to its statistics. It should do so in a way that puts the metrics in context – a comparison with the results from other similar organizations with no editorializing and no cherry picking of results that make them look better than they are.

    This is one of the services that government oversight agencies could provide, since there is no for-profit motive in anyone providing the accurate information to the public. I hesitate when I say that, because I worry that the regulatory process of approving what statistics should be shown might be more cumbersome than its worth :)

    PS. I always use the same “name” on my posts as well. Of course I should point out that the “George” a couple comments above is a different “George” than I :)

  • Chris

    I do not like it when people lie too. I feel alot of people lie. I feel that it is something we have learned to live with. I feel it is definately a different world and much different times. With that said, I am laughing at you for this article and the FLS for printing it and the exects at Medicorp. You all now get to see what it feels like when the people have found a way to get a message accross to the world. Before Facebook , you could write or call and cry for years and never be heard. Now people of all races and status levels are uleashing the dog on everyone for doing whatever it is that they did. Medicorp or any other hospital is getting called out on the carpet and can not use bully lawyers to scare people for giving their side or story. So, I suggest you tell your partners and bosses and evryone else to tighten up and cross evry t and dot every i cause Facebook is definately changing the rules. And who in the world are you for trying to be the ultimate trial judge and investigate the peoples stuff anyway. If you are not directly invoved, stay out of it. I honestly think that there is some truth to this septic thing, why else would this random thing just pop out? Welcome to Facebook earth. Smile, you are not invisible anymore big corporate business, especiallly the NOT FOR PROFIT ones. HaHa HA

  • Adam

    People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. This paper has printed mistakes, hype and biased stories for years. Retractions are buried. People’s lives are ruined by bad journalism. I think they’re just sore because they no longer hold the power.

  • Rufus

    One thing I am sure of. A Stafford H spokesman would never, ever admit, “Why, yes indeed, we did have three patients dead from sepsis infections.” They would be fired immediately, true answer or not.

  • LarryG

    Some stats are collected by Medicare including the sepsis ones I believe and are available to those who know how to track down the information.

    What would be a powerful statement from Medicorp would be to link to that info from their websites – as well as an FAQ to explain basic things – and a blog to field moderated questions that allows them to dump comments that do not conform to the rules (as FLS does).

    In other words, be as open, transparent and accountable as it is possible to be without airing things that they don’t want to.

    They’ll never win everyone over – that’s not going to happen but they don’t have to – they only have to establish a reasonable reputation with the majority of the public and they can do that.

    But what they cannot do in this day and age is run and hide from public comments even if those comments are not entirely fair or even true.

  • Janie Showers

    I must say that the Stafford Hospital leaves a lot to be desired. I had a experience with them on January 25th, and would not go there again if I was dying. I was driving home from work and started having chest pains I drove to Stafford hospital and my husband and I went inside and were greeted by the receptionist. My husband explained that I was having a lot of chect pain and shortness of breath and my arms were tingling. The receptionist insisted that I fill out all the paperwork before they could see husband stated that he would fill out the paperwork if they woild please just check me. She refused to do anything until the paperwork was done and insisted that I sign it. So after that fiasco I was told to have a seat in the waiting area and they would get to me. I sat in a wheel chair in their waiting room for 10-15 minutes feeling worse as time went by. When my husband inquired about the wait he was again told by the “receptionist” that they would get to me but they were very busy. She totally ignored the fact that I was having difficulty breathing. With that being said I had no choice but to leave and seek medical attention elsewhere. We were told by the receptionist on the way out the door that she advised me not to leave since I was having chest pains. I guess she would have much rather have me die in their waiting area.
    I then was driven by my husband to MARY WASHINGTON HOSPITAL and was immediatelty taken into the back and seen by a doctor. Mary Washington Hospital has always taken great care of me and I will bypass Stafford Hospital in any case and go there. Its a shame that Stafford Hospital is even affiliated with Mary Washington at all they are a disgrace.
    I would love to discuss this with hospital administrators. They need to have their employees escpcially their receptionist trained on how to handle a “TRUE” emergency situation.

  • Missy

    To me, this article sounds like someone who has taken personal offense to the comments made against the Stafford Hospital, i.e. “gutless security,” and re-posting a doctor’s comment referring to the poster as “crackpot.” There was no need to share the doctor’s name-calling – how does that help portray a level of professionalism? I would like the name of the doctor, so I can make sure never to see him, and I would like the name of the sopkeswoman for the hospital; please, no more anonymity. If you don’t like the anonymous world we live in, don’t post comments from anonymous people when they can’t be verified by anyone.

    If you want to stick up for the Stafford location of MWH, that’s fine, but if it’s attached to the FLS – blog or not – I don’t agree with it. I turn to my newspaper journalists for accurate reporting of facts, and to rise above petty mud-slinging. I think there needs to be a non-FLS forum for those kinds of things, independent from the paper.

    I’ve enjoyed the FLS for many years, my parents were loyal subscribers when I was a child and they still are. However, seeing these FLS-linked blogs from journalists that take sides and include some of the verbage slants above puts a tarnish on the silver a bit for me.

  • Chris

    Dear FLS and other similar business. Facebook is a very dramatic and accepted thing. It is actually growing faster day by day than any other companies in the world. As a matter of fact, there was an hour long news story on tv about it last night. Seems the people value Facebook more than anything right now. That equals dollars lost for you guys.. There are some ups and downs, some pros and cons to it. We can now get our news online too and it seems, I may be wrong, But it seems like you guys are getting mad at Facebook. and it seems you may be losing business and your affiliates and business colleagues are starting to feel the ripple effect of word of the computer. Wellagain ,all I can say is to start getting good at your job and do the closest to perfect that you can do, be honest, open, forthcoming and accurate, do not let anyone use you to cover up anything, report the facts unbiased and then you have nothing to fear. Unless Facebook takes over the news. Get with the times, it was someone else that invented Facebook and alot of humans seem to like it. Heck even law inforcement uses it. Paper is out computers are in. Get rid of the pop ups on your site and wise up. Do not be Old FLS be the New FLS

  • LarryG

    I assume that folks realize that Facebook is capturing personal information about you and your life and all that connect to you via FB and providing it to others who pay to get it including those who are up to no good and can use that info to know where you live and work and where you hang out and with who.

    Is that a smart thing to do in this day and time?

    If someone came to your door or called you and asked for a complete list of all the people you knew and hung out with…where you worked.. what you did socially, etc, etc – would you tell them?

    Well isn’t that exactly what you are doing with FB when you join and use their default “privacy” settings? (which is an oxymoron).

    It appears to be like giving a brochure about you and your life to any Tom, Dick or Harry who happens along.

    If you say something that someone else does not like – they can find out who you are and track you down via FB – right? Even bad guys, right?

    Don’t they call it FB Stalking?

    Call me old fashioned but I find that idea a little unsettling.

  • Cathy Yablonski

    Amanda. As Administrator of Stafford Hospital, it is important to me to earn the community’s loyalty and trust and provide the experience everyone deserves. I welcome all comments as we are committed to providing the best quality care and service to every patient we touch. Every person’s experience is important to me, good and bad.
    I personally invite you to call me on 540-741-9045.

  • Dartmouth

    Called the number, got a recording of Fred Rankin singing “we’re in the money …”