Getting Sicker in the Hospital? Blame HAIs.

Hospital Infection

When you enter the hospital, you don’t expect to stay there longer than expected because you became sicker than you were when you went in. But it happens to millions of people in the U.S. every year. Hospital-acquired infections, or HAIs, plague us despite our high-tech medical procedures and antibiotics.

HAIs create devastating health crises and death. According to a 2002 study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HAIs result in around 1.7 million infections each year. Those who die from HAIs? Nearly 100,000 every year. HAIs are the No. 1 complication of hospital care, and the additional financial burden to our health care system each year because of HAIs runs between $28 billion and $33 billion. It’s estimated that approximately one-third of HAIs could be prevented.

In August, 2016, a Maryland hospital closed their neonatal ICU because of Pseudomonas, a common cause of HAIs. Around 400 people die from Pseudomonas in hospital settings yearly.

HAIs: How Does Maryland Stack Up?

First, the good news: CLABSIs, or Central Line-Associated Bloodstream Infections, were 47 percent lower in Maryland than the national baseline (based on 2014 data that was published in 2016). CLABSIs arise because a tube that is placed in a major vein is not kept clean or is inserted incorrectly. It’s estimated that every year a quarter-million people nationally contract a CLABSI, and from 30,000 to 62,000 die as a result.

But then there’s the bad news:

  • CAUTIs: Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections are 35 percent higher in Maryland than the national baseline. CAUTIs occur because a urinary catheter is not inserted properly, is not kept clean, or is left in place longer than it should be.
  • MRSA: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections are 22 percent higher in Maryland than the national baseline. MRSA is generally spread because of contaminated hands, and it can be the cause of severe bloodstream infections. As is implied by its name, MRSA is difficult to treat because of antibiotic resistance.
  • difficile: Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) infections, due to a bacterium that causes potentially deadly diarrhea, are 20 percent higher in Maryland than the national baseline. A side effect of taking antibiotics is the destruction of beneficial bacteria in our bodies. C. difficile infections are spread in healthcare settings because of the necessary but widespread use of antibiotics.
  • SSIs: Surgical Site Infections for abdominal hysterectomy surgery in Maryland are 18 percent higher than the national baseline. SSIs can involve only the skin or can involve deeper tissue due to implanted material such as organs or medical devices. SSIs can be caused by a number of microbes.

Maryland figures are not available for VAP, or Ventilator-Assisted Pneumonia. However, nationally, VAPs account for 15 percent of all HAIs, which are usually the result of ventilator equipment that was not properly sterilized.

Maryland Laws Regarding Reporting of HAI Figures

Health care facilities in Maryland are required to report what are known as Level 1 adverse events, meaning those that result in death or serious disability. While Level 1 reports are generally down, some claim that such events are greatly underreported. Though individual events are not reported publicly in order to encourage complete honesty on the part of hospitals, a number of patient advocates are pushing for greater transparency. A well-known patient safety expert who works at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Peter J. Pronovost, is on record as saying, “Are [adverse events] grossly underreported? Shamefully, no one knows. If you added up all the adverse events in hospitals, they would probably be about the third leading cause of death. The public should be screaming that we deserve better.”

Preventing HAIs

Infections that arise from a stay in the hospital are often preventable, and a number of steps can be taken by health care professionals to stop the spread of HAIs:

  • Washing hands before and after every patient could prevent about 40 percent of all HAIs. Direct contact is the most common way infections are transmitted.
  • Properly cleaning the procedure site on a patient to prevent the transfer of microbes into the patient’s tissues or bloodstream.
  • Removing catheters at the earliest possible time.
  • Using post-operative antibiotics wisely, monitoring their use.
  • Sterilizing all ventilator equipment thoroughly, and positioning patients so that they are not completely flat on their backs.
  • Isolating patients with antibiotic-resistant or gram-negative infections from other patients.

Remember, the stakes are high when it comes to HAIs. You will spend nearly an extra week in the hospital if you contract an infection. You are also five times more likely to be readmitted, and twice as likely to die. HAIs, despite their collective name, are not limited to hospitals, but can happen in long-term care facilities, dialysis centers, and other medical settings.

If a family member is in the hospital, be as vigilant as you can to prevent HAIs:

  • Ask daily whether a central line or urinary catheter is still needed.
  • Ask health care personnel to wash their hands if you did not see them do so.
  • Point out any symptoms of infection, such as swelling, redness, discharge, pain, and fever.
  • Inform a doctor if there have been more than three occurrences of diarrhea in 24 hours and the patient has been on an antibiotic.

A Skilled and Caring Medical Malpractice Attorney Can Help You

HAIs, if they arise from negligence, can be the basis for a medical malpractice suit. An experienced medical malpractice attorney such as Maryland attorney Steven H. Heisler  will be able to listen to the facts of your case, conduct a thorough investigation, and help you devise a legal strategy for obtaining compensation for your injuries. Due to the involvement of insurance companies and defendants who can afford a strong legal team, it’s a good idea to equip yourself with an attorney who has extensive experience when it comes to medical malpractice. Not every medical malpractice claim will hold up in court. However, the only way to determine this is through a thorough case review.

If you or a loved one has suffered as the result of what you believe to be medical malpractice, contact the law offices of The Injury Lawyer, Steven H. Heisler,  today for a free initial consultation about whether you have a case at (410) 625-4878, or use our online contact form.