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How hospitals fail to prevent infections

How hospitals fail to prevent infections

Picture of Jenna Chandler
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria commonly acquired in hospitals
Interaction of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureuswith a human white cell. The bacteria shown is strain MRSA252, a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections in the United States and United Kingdom. Credit: NIAID

Hospitals are hotbeds for germs. Bacteria, fungi and viruses live harmlessly on the skin, in nasal passages and the gut, but when they enter a body through catheters, endoscopes and other surgical devices or land directly on wounds – sometimes spread by bed linens, toilets and medical gowns – they can cause serious illness and sometimes death. 

Though hospitals are getting better at reducing infections – through techniques as simple as hand-washing – it's estimated that one in 25 hospital patients will acquire a bug. Known as hospital-acquired infections, they kill about 75,000 people yearly in the United States; they are one of the country’s leading causes of death. 

In Orange County last fall, a cluster of enterobacter infections forced Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center to shut down two dozen operating rooms. The small outbreak sickened at least four people, forced dozens of patients to postpone surgeries and nearly cost the 345-bed hospital its accreditation for Medicare and Medicaid funding.

What caused the outbreak? The public must rely on hospitals to release information about their own errors.The Joint Commission certifies agencies for Medicare and Medicaid funding, but does not make the details of its investigations public. State and federal regulators do not comment until their reports are made public several weeks later.

My stories will analyze Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services inspection records for every hospital in Orange County over the past few years to see where they have fallen short in controlling infections. They will also explore solutions for improving and adhering to proven preventions and controls.

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