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The Cost of Caring 

Spokane City Council's sustainability push; plus, a new hospital report

Paying for Sustainability

Council President Ben Stuckart has led the charge in recent weeks to pass two environmentally conscious ordinances and has another in the pipeline. But some have questioned why Stuckart and others supporting the ordinances — one limiting city purchase of products containing PCBs, another limiting city use of the pesticide group neonicotinoids and one the council will soon vote on creating a purchasing preference for recycled paper — aren't analyzing the costs of these new rules before voting yes.

After the council approved the PCB ordinance, City Administrator Theresa Sanders wrote in an email to Stuckart, "We need an inventory of products containing these materials, how they are currently used, what alternatives are available etc."

Then, at Monday's vote on the neonicotinoid ban, Councilman Mike Fagan brought up a resolution the council passed in 2013 requiring a "financial analysis" on ordinances meant to reduce carbon emissions in the city, but the council's attorney, Mike Piccolo, says such analyses are not required for changes not dealing with CO2 emissions, so the vote went forward.

"Either we're going to be sustainable or we're not," Stuckart says. "Sometimes sustainability costs a little bit more."

— HEIDI GROOVER

Lawsuit Revived

A Washington state Court of Appeals decision has renewed a federal lawsuit against Spokane County stemming from the death of 84-year-old Kay Mita, who succumbed to hypothermia near the courthouse front steps during a 2007 snowstorm after security guards locked him out.

Court records indicate Mita responded to a juror summons on Nov. 26, 2007, but later struggled to locate his parked car. Despite 20-degree temperatures and calls from his family reporting him missing, security officers with Guardsmark LLC, also named in the lawsuit, twice ushered Mita outside and locked the doors behind him. Mita was later found dead, covered in snow.

Mita's family filed a lawsuit in 2010, but a federal judge dismissed the case. The Appeals Court decision on Tuesday reverses that ruling, setting the stage for a trial over whether the county or the security firm had a "duty to care" for the obviously lost and cold man.

Family attorney Richard Eymann says a jury may now finally have a chance to hear the case. He argues the effects of hypothermia likely caused Mita's confusion and officers should have better protected him. Mita's widow, Shizuko, died on June 5 at the age of 89.

"It's really unfortunate," Eymann says. "This really took a toll on her."

— JACOB JONES

Critical Condition

On any given day, according to the Centers for Disease Control, one out of every 25 hospital patients nationwide is suffering from at least one infection acquired at the hospital. In other words, hospitals themselves can be dangerous.

That's why Deaconess Hospital and Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center are now facing penalties. Yesterday, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released a preliminary report of "hospital acquired conditions" for over 3,350 U.S. hospitals — scoring each on a scale of 1 to 10 for hospital-acquired infections and injuries, with 10 being the greatest level of harm. Over 700 hospitals were marked for preliminary penalties — including Sacred Heart (with a score of 8.35) and Deaconess (with a 9.675). Both are at risk of losing 1 percent of their federal Medicare reimbursements starting in October, though Medicare will examine the hospitals' performances over a longer period before finalizing sanctions.

While there were 57 hospitals with worse scores than Deaconess, it remains in the top 2 percent of the worst in the country, according to the report. Deaconess spokeswoman Sasha Dae Weiler says the hospital is actively improving. "We have worked diligently to successfully reduce or eliminate the incidence of hospital acquired conditions such as pressure ulcers and selected infections due to medical care and post-operative hip fracture," she writes in a statement.

Joe Robb, spokesman for Providence Health Care, says Sacred Heart executives have begun regularly meeting during a dedicated time to discuss patient safety.

Critics of the federal government's report, meanwhile, complain it may inadvertently punish the hospitals that are better at identifying and reporting hospital-acquired infections.

— DANIEL WALTERS

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