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Hospital Infections In California - How Bad Is The Problem?

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Can you imagine contracting a deadly infection while in a hospital? Unfortunately, hospital-associated patient infections (HAI) are a serious problem. While California hospitals perform better than hospitals nationwide in terms of standardized infection ratios for four types of HAI, they perform worse in two categories:

  • Surgical site infections (SSI) following colon surgery
  • Hospital-onset Clostridium difficile infection (CDI)

Some individual California hospitals have significantly higher standardized infection ratios (SIR) than the state or national SIR.

California law requires that hospitals be inspected every three years. But the state inspectors have fallen far short of this mark. The problem has gotten so bad that one organization, Consumers Union, has filed a petition with the California Department of Public Health. The Safe Patient Project of that organization claims that 131 California hospitals have not been inspected for at least five years. Of these, 80 have higher much HAI rates than other hospitals. In the Los Angeles area, these hospitals include Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Under California law, the Department of Public Health must respond to the petition or hold a public hearing.

How Do Hospital-Associated Infections Happen?

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) tracks the incidence of six types of hospital-associated infections. The SIR rates mentioned below are for those hospitals with enough data to calculate SIR:

  • Central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSI) - Occurs when an unclean tube is placed in a large vein. In California, 13 percent of hospitals had a significantly worse SIR than the national SIR.
  • Catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTI) - Happens when a urinary catheter is dirty or kept in too long. Fourteen percent of California hospitals had a significantly worse SIR than the national SIR.
  • Hospital-onset methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteremia - It's usually spread by unclean hands. In California, 4 percent of hospitals had a significantly worse SIR than the national SIR.
  • Surgical site infections (SSI) following abdominal hysterectomy - Caused when germs enter the body through a surgical incision or implanted medical device. Four percent of California hospitals had a significantly worse SIR than the national SIR.
  • Surgical site infections (SSI) following colon surgery - Caused when germs enter the body through a surgical incision. In California, 10 percent of hospitals had a significantly worse SIR than the national SIR.
  • Hospital-onset Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) - After a person takes antibiotics, the body can become vulnerable to this type of infection. In California, 25 percent of hospitals have a significantly higher SIR than the national SIR.

As many as 9,000 people in California die every year as the result of these types of infections, although it's not alwasys easy to ascribe any particular death to a hospital-associated infection alone. People who have contracted a hospital-associated infection may be able to claim compensation through a lawsuit alleging medical negligence.

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