• Betsy Lehman

    Betsy Lehman

    The Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety and Medical Error Reduction is an independent state agency with a broad mandate to improve patient safety in Massachusetts. It is named for Betsy Lehman, a Boston Globe health care reporter and mother who died at the age of 39 in 1994 as the result of an overdose of a chemotherapy drug.

    In the years since Betsy's death, improved patient safety measures have been implemented in Massachusetts and nationwide. But preventable harm through mistakes made during medical care remains a critical issue.

    More than 400,000  deaths each year are associated with preventable adverse events in American hospitals. Medical errors also occur in doctors' offices, nursing homes, clinics, pharmacies and patients' homes, and can result in additional or prolonged treatment, disability or death. This makes medical error the third-leading cause of death in the country, behind only heart disease and cancer. The high costs – both financial and suffering by patients and families–demand even greater strides towards reducing medical error today.

    The Center's Role in Patient Safety

    Betsy Lehman Center (BLC) was originally launched in 2004 within the state's Executive Office of Health and Human Services and operated within the Department of Public Health.  It was reestablished in 2013 as an independent agency within the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA). BLC is now led by Executive Director Barbara Fain who was appointed by a Board comprised of Attorney General Martha Coakley, Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz, Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs Barbara Anthony, and Áron Boros, Executive Director of the CHIA.

    BLC's charge is to foster a statewide program of research, data analysis and dissemination of best practices that engages health care agencies, health care providers and consumers in initiatives that will reduce medical error and enhance patient safety in the Commonwealth. Under its enabling statute, G.L. chapter 12C, § 15, the Center's functions include:

    • Coordinating the efforts of state health care agencies and licensed providers to work as part of a total system of patient safety and to meet their responsibilities for patient safety and medical error reduction;
    • Developing mechanisms for consumers to be included in a statewide program for improving patient safety;
    • Analyzing data and research to support patient safety initiatives;
    • Administering an education and research program for health care professionals, facilities, agencies, and the general public to increase awareness  about medical error as well as error prevention strategies; and
    • Disseminating information about evidence-based best practices to reduce medical errors and enhance patient safety.

    Because promoting a culture of patient safety requires a collaborative approach, BLC is engaged with a broad range of stakeholders representing consumers, providers and health care organizations. A strategic planning process is underway to ensure BLC's efforts are directed at closing the most critical gaps in patient safety efforts.

    If a Medical Error Occurs

    Under Massachusetts law, when a patient suffers an unanticipated outcome with significant medical complications resulting from a health care provider's error or mistake, the provider must inform the patient of what happened.

    If you believe that you or someone in your care has experienced a medical error, the first step is to talk to your health care provider about what happened.  Many hospitals and clinics have patient advocates who can help. The patient advocate can connect you to someone who will listen to your concerns. Remember, health care providers want to deliver high quality, safe medical care. When problems occur, health care professionals, hospitals, and other health facilities should hear about them and work to prevent them from happening again.

    You may also contact Massachusetts regulatory agencies that investigate concerns about health care quality and safety.

    The Division of Health Care Facility Licensure and Certification  of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health investigates complaints against hospitals and other health care facilities and also investigates complaints of patient abuse and neglect in long term care facilities.

    Complaint Intake Unit
    99 Chauncy Street
    Boston, Massachusetts 02111


    24 hour consumer line: 
    (800) 462-5540 or 617-753-8150

    Fax forms to: 617-753-8165

    If you are a facility and wish to report an incident please fax reports to: 617 753-8165

    The Board of Registration in Medicine investigates complaints against physicians and acupuncturists, holds hearings and determines sanctions.

    200 Harvard Mill Square, Suite 330
    Wakefield, MA 01880

    Consumer Hotline: (800) 377-0550

    Phone: 781-876-8200

    Fax: 781-876-8383
    TTY: 781-876-8395

    Other independent organizations also provide services to patients and health care professionals after a medical error. These include Medically Induced Trauma Support Services, Inc. (MITSS), a non-profit organization based in Massachusetts. Their mission is "To Support Healing and Restore Hope" to patients, families, and clinicians who have been affected by an adverse medical event. Visit www.mitss.org for resources, tools and support services.