Hospitals to Blame for Failing to Halt the Rise of Hospital-Acquired Infections

Over the course of the last year, there have been numerous reports regarding the rise of hospital-acquired infections and the relative ease in preventing these infections. I have written numerous times about the risks and causes of hospital-acquired infections (see most recently “Veteran’s Affairs Hospital Infection Scandal”and “Hospital-Acquired Infections Still a Huge Threat to Patients” on this blog. There can be no dispute that hospitals are on notice regarding this epidemic and should have already implemented basic policies and standards to prevent these preventable infections. That is why a recent hospital employee survey, reported in the Washington Post yesterday, is so disturbing. The survey, taken by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology addressed the high number of hospital-acquired infections every year, and pointed the finger at the failure of hospital administrators to set standards and focus their attention on catheter-related bloodstream infections or CRBSIs.

It is estimated that 80,000 patients develop infections from catheters ever year, resulting in about 30,000 deaths. These CRBSIs account for almost one-third of all hospital-acquired infections in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These deadly infections are directly related to a hospital’s negligence in two areas: (1) failing to properly prepare the medication and nutrients in the catheter, or (2) leaving the medication and nutrients in the catheter longer than necessary.

As hospital infections continue to rise, and certainly many hospitals are taking this issue seriously and devoting much attention to it, there are federally-funded programs addressing this problem directly. One such program, in Michigan, recently instituted infection-prevention methods in intensive care units to combat CRBSIs. Amazingly, catheter-related infections were reduced by two-thirds, saving 1500 lives in less than two years. This program alone is proof that preventative measures and greater attention to patients prevents these infections and saves lives.

So what is stopping hospitals from implementing these same precautions? Is it ignorance or does it come down to cost? One researcher stated that the average cost of implementing such a program is less than 10% of what it costs to treat the average infection. According to the survey, the reason these programs are not being implemented, is “ignorance and neglect at the top.” The results showed that infection-control nurses and other hospital workers are not being given efficient tools for tracking patients’ conditions, and many indicated that they are not given enough time to train new employees on proper procedures. Receiving financial assistance from administrators and enforcing best practice guidelines were also high on the list of challenges faced by hospital employees when trying to keep CRBSIs under control.

A lack of awareness by hospital executives could also be contributing to the prevalence of infections, suggested the researchers, and they emphasized that hospital leaders need to be driving forces that make CRBSI prevention a priority. Creating such an environment will generate a chain of accountability across the entire hospital that will help employees keep each other in check.

If someone in your family has died as a result of a catheter-related bloodstream infection, please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Pogust, Braslow & Millrood. Hospitals must and should be held accountable for the prevention of these infections.