More than 262 years ago, the Pennsylvania Hospital, which was the nation’s first hospital, was established in Philadelphia.
The hospital, which is still standing today, named its mission to cure the sick and provide wellness education to the community.
Today, hospitals all over the U.S. share that same goal. However nationwide, many American patients are checking out with infections they were not admitted with, and many are dying.
According to a 2011 survey done by the New England Journal of Medicine, conducted in 183 hospitals in 10 states, about 1.7 million patients that year were affected by hospital acquired infections, while some 75,000 with infections died that year.
This is equal to just over 205 deaths from hospital-acquired infections every day.
Betsy McCaughey, patient advocate, former Lt. Governor of New York State and now chairman of the committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (RID) blames the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) lax guidelines and hospital’s lack of cleanliness.
“Their relaxed guidelines give hospitals an excuse to do too little,” said McCaughey. “They (CDC) are largely to blame for the persistence of this problem. The latest information they have about hospital infections is dated 2011 and in case they haven’t realized, it is 2014. They can tell you how many cases of Ebola there are week by week but they can’t tell you how many people are dying from hospital infections in our country.”
She emphasizes that hospitals are inadequately cleaned and the single biggest factor in determining if one acquires an infection in the hospital depends on the room in which they are placed. If one were put in a room where an occupant, even two weeks prior had an infection, the new patient is at risk.
“The most advanced medical care won’t work if clinicians don’t prevent infections through basic things such as regular hand hygiene,” said Tom Frieden, CDC director in an earlier release. “Although there has been some progress, today and every day, more than 200 Americans with health care-associated infections will die during their hospital stay.”
McCaughey, author of over 300 scholarly and popular articles on health policy, infection and medical innovation, noted there are several steps one can take before they go into the hospital as well as ones to take after leaving. RID’s website lists 15 tips for infection prevention but one of the most important involves hand washing.
“The number one most important thing is to ask anyone who is going to touch you for any reason to clean their hands in front of you,” she said. “Wearing gloves isn’t good enough because if they pull on the gloves before washing their hands, they’re just contaminating the outside of the gloves. So many times doctors and nurses will clean their hands outside of the room but then they come into the patient’s room and touch the bed rails, privacy curtains or drawers. All of those surfaces are highly contaminated.”
In many cases, these infections cannot be cured with antibiotics including the superbug known as Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) also known as the “nightmare bacteria” by health officials because it is virtually untreatable and deadly. With a 50 percent mortality rate, this infection was first spotted in 2003 in just a few places in the U.S. – today it is found in at least 46 states said McCaughey.
While Staph infections are fairly common, another infection has emerged as the most prevalent: Clostridium difficile. Also known simply as C.diff., this illness can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. It kills more than 14,000 people per year as stated by the CDC and cost per infection ranges from $6,000 – $9,000. The estimated total cost per year ranges from $1 billion – $1.6 billion.
The Indiana State Department of Health makes note of six Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs) including types of urinary tract infections and pneumonia, however the department of health requires mandatory reporting of health care associated infections by hospitals.
Before proceeding with most hospital treatments, prospective patients are warned about the possibility of infection and most medical professionals will not proceed without consent. Unfortunately, most victims who sue for medical malpractice find it difficult to prove how the bacteria entered their body while hospitalized, although attorneys can argue that the hospital failed to enforce hand hygiene rules and implement necessary infection prevention practices.
“If you’re going to visit a loved one in the hospital, forget the flowers and the candy, bring a canister of bleach wipes to clean the surfaces right around the patient’s area,” said McCaughey.
For more information on preventing hospital-acquired infections, visit hospitalinfection.org.
- Wash your hands with soap and water frequently
- Clean surfaces in bathrooms and kitchens regularly with chlorine bleach-based products
- If you are visiting someone in a health care facility, wash your hands before and after your visit.