Four patient safety activists – all who have been personally affected by medical harm – were among the 164 participants in ABC’s televised health care forum held with President Obama. Michael Bennett and Cathy Reuter of Maryland, Helen Haskell of South Carolina and Kim Sandstrom of Florida have been vocal forces in their home states and nationwide to demand action from our health care leaders.

“It was a privilege to be in the White House and to take part in a vital discussion that is just getting started,” said Michael, President of the Coalition for Patients’ Rights.

Preventable medical harm still accounts for more than 100,000 deaths each year – a million lives over the past decade. At the health care forum, Michael, Cathy, Helen and Kim put faces to these horrible, life-changing statistics,. Understandably, they came armed with questions but didn’t get to ask them. So we wanted to give them a chance to get their questions in front of the public and lawmakers here on this blog.

Kim Sandstrom, whose daughter Diana died from hospital-acquired MRSA a few days after the birth of her baby, came prepared to ask the President:

Hospital acquired infections have disabled and killed 10’s of 1,000’s of Americans in 2009 alone, at a great cost to our country in terms of extended hospitalizations, disability, lost productivity, loss of life; families that will never be the same again, children left without a parent and parents left without a child, such as myself. How do you propose to incorporate patient safety reform into your health care reform plan?

Michael Bennett asked President Obama during one of the session breaks how he could ensure that health care institutions implement evidence-based best practices and comply with them. According to Michael, the President’s response centered on incentives. “Unfortunately, accountability and transparency were not mentioned,” said Michael, whose father, Mark, died from multiple hospital infections, including MRSA, and medical errors.

The inclusion of patient safety advocates in Obama’s forum was a good start, but the dialogue needs to continue as reform bills are crafted.

“I think this was the first time that medical injury victims or patient safety advocates as a specific group had even been included as a significant party,” said Helen Haskell. “I hope this is a sign that safety and misuse of medicine – as opposed to just the concept of excessive use – will be part of the discussion from now on.” Helen, founder of Mothers Against Medical Error, has been on the front lines of the patient safety movement since the tragic death of her son Lewis.

Patient safety is making health care reform headlines, both in Roll Call and the New York Times,. Kim’s attendance at the forum was featured in a local Florida newspaper and her work continues with Mothers Against Medical Error. You can connect with them on Facebook by clicking here. You can learn about Cathy Reuter’s work on surgical fires here.

Activists continue working to make patient safety a bigger priority for national health care reform. “President Obama has a daunting task ahead,” said Michael. “By courageously confronting an issue that has been left to fester for far too long and that has created legions of victims on all sides, this president offers hope.”