When Hospitals Fail to Prevent Serious Patient Infections

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Nearly 800 U.S. hospitals recently were penalized for their poor performance in preventing hospital-acquired infections that pose potentially deadly harm to patients. In February the federal government docked Medicare reimbursements to 774 hospitals by 1% based on their under-performing patient safety track-record between 2017 and 2019.

This is a serious penalty, but it points to the seriousness of infections that patients receive during a hospital stay.

Part of the Affordable Care Act is the Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program. This mandates that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services review hospital performance and penalize the lowest performing 25% of qualifying hospitals for preventing medical errors.  The primary area of concern is hospital-acquired infections.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that hospital-acquired infections kill 99,000 patients every year.  The CDC also reports that one of out every 31 hospital patients will suffer at least one infection during treatment.

Types of Serious Hospital-Acquired Infections

Per the ACA program, hospitals are evaluated largely on how well (or how poorly) they prevent these serious infections:

  • Central line-associated bloodstream infection
  • Surgical site infection
  • Catheter-associated urinary tract infection
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection (staph)
  • Clostridium difficile infection (C. diff)

The CDC reports that thousands of patients die every year in this country from central line-associated bloodstream infections. The organization also states that these are preventable infections.

They occur when a central line, a type of catheter inserted into a major vein near the heart, is infected with a bacteria or virus.  These harmful agents enter a patient’s bloodstream undetected.

To guard against infections when using a central line, the CDC says that the line must be sterile.  When inserted improperly by healthcare professionals, the line may become dirty, putting the patient in jeopardy. They should also follow established protocols when checking the line or changing the dressing around the line, or an infection may occur.

Steps to Prevent a Surgical Site Infection

A type of medical error following an operation is a surgical site infection. These infections can spread to internal organs, threatening the patient’s life or posing chronic health consequences requiring long-term and costly medical care.

Surgical staffs should take steps both before and after surgery to prevent a surgical site infection, including:

  • Proper hand and arm washing prior to the operation
  • Wear the proper protective clothing during surgery
  • Thorough hand-washing prior to caring for patient following surgery

Improper sterilization procedures can lead to a catheter-associated urinary tract infection. So too can the incorrect insertion of the catheter.  These infections can harm the kidney, urethra, and bladder.  According to the CDC, three-quarters of urinary tract infections involve a urinary catheter, and up to 25% of hospital patients receive a urinary catheter as part of their treatment.

Staph Infection From Hospital Stay

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is one of the most serious types of staph infections because most antibiotics won’t work on it. Like all staph infections, the MRSA is caused by a germ that typically is spread person-to-person.  The germ can enter a person’s bloodstream – and ultimately bones or vital organs - via an open wound or catheter incision.

Those infected with the C. diff bacteria can suffer life-threating harm, including:

  • Kidney failure
  • Enlargement of the colon
  • Sepsis

As with an MRSA infection, the key to hospitals preventing a C. diff infection is consistent proper personal hygiene by doctors, nurses and other care providers, and proper care and use of medical devices during treatment.

The federal government recognizes the seriousness of potentially fatal hospital-acquired infections and the responsibility for hospitals to protect their patients from them. Unfortunately, when a patient does suffer a preventable infection, the federal financial penalties may come too late.

If you had a family member die or you were seriously injured from an infection received during medical treatment, speak with a medical malpractice attorney about your legal rights to just compensation from all responsible parties.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles March 9, 2021

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