Health care-related infections on the rise

(Republican Herald) The number of health care-associated infections continues to decrease across the state, according to an annual report by the state Department of Health.

“The findings in this report highlight the continued progress Pennsylvania is making in improving the quality of care in hospitals across the state,” Acting Secretary of Health Michael Wolf said in the report.

Infections obtained while receiving medical care decreased more than 3 percent, according to the 2011 report released on Nov. 28.

Three benchmarks were used to determine hospital performance: catheter-associated urinary tract infections, central-line blood stream infections and six types of surgical site infections. These health care-associated infections, or HAIs, are good indicators of infection control in hospitals.

In addition to the overall decrease in HAIs, each of the three categories showed decreases reaching as high as 4 percent. The Department of Health said these results show better patient outcomes and reduced health-care costs.

“It’s a trend we are continuing to see,” Cathy Sophy, RN, administrative director of quality and patient safety officer for Schuylkill Health, said Tuesday. “All hospitals in the state have been working to improve the infection rate.”

According to the report, the overall HAI rate at Schuylkill Medical Center-South Jackson Street was 0.89 percent for 2011, down from 1.16 percent in 2010, 1.30 percent in 2009, and 1.15 in 2008. The number of licensed beds at the facility for 2011 was 180.

The overall HAI rate at Schuylkill Medical Center-East Norwegian Street was 1.02 percent for 2011, down from 1.70 in 2010, 2.51 in 2009, and 2.07 in 2008. The facility had 126 licensed beds in 2011.

Sophy said the state has put in specific guidelines over recent years regarding catheters. She said they include strict instructions on insertion, daily monitoring and cleaning. They are also removed as soon as possible and only used when needed, Sophy said.

“That has helped reduce the infection rate in those patients,” Sophy said.

According to the study, the South Jackson Street facility had only three urinary tract infections in 2011, down from five in 2010, seven in 2009, and eight in 2008. The East Norwegian Street facility also only had three urinary tract infections last year, down from 14 in 2010, nine in 2009, and five in 2008.

Sophy said the best prevention method for any type of infection is the most obvious.

“The number one way to stop the spread of infection is hand washing,” Sophy said.

As hospitals continue to make improvements to lower the rate even further, M. Michael Peckman, hospital spokesman, said studies like these are important for the public.

“Patients are becoming more educated and take it upon themselves to learn,” Peckman said Tuesday. “More data has been available than ever before.”

About one in 20 hospitalized patients will contract a HAI, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hospitals in Pennsylvania are required to report HAIs to the Department of Health through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Care Safety Network.

In addition to showing HAI trends over time at each hospital, the report also includes influenza vaccination rates for health care workers.

“Though not mandated to be included, the hospitals voluntarily provided vaccination data because it serves as a valuable tool in measuring a hospital’s commitment to public safety and to its health care workers,” Wolf said. “Next year we plan to include a full list of individual hospital data related to flu vaccination rates.”

According to the report, 72 percent of all Pennsylvania health care employees received vaccinations during the 2011-2012 flu season. Starting next year, all hospitals receiving in-patient payments from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will be required to submit data on health care worker vaccinations.

The 2011 report, along with a question and answer document, can be found under the “What’s Hot” section of