O'Neill: It's safer to work at Alcoa than in health care

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted April 5, 2004

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Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill received a standing ovation at the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education's conference in Chicago last month after telling the several hundred program directors and coordinators in attendance that they had "the potential for greatness."

O'Neill, the executive director of the Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative, said that when he became CEO of the Alcoa aluminum manufacturer in 1987, he set a goal that no one there would ever be hurt at work. Today, he said Alcoa's rate for lost work days due to injuries is 40 times lower than the health care industry's.

Accidents, medication errors and hospital-acquired infections can be substantially reduced, O'Neill said, by using information that is already known and with aggressive, continuous and systematic improvement.

He also said patient outcomes would dramatically improve and financial savings would be so huge that health care access problems could be solved, and there would be money left over to help the thousands of African children who die from diarrhea because they don't have clean water.

Note: This item originally appeared at

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