California Hospitals Sue Over Reporting Infections

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CBS SF Bay (con't)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — Hospital-acquired infections are among the leading causes of death in the United States.

One might think patients could shop around and pick a hospital with a low infection rate, but that’s not happening yet in California.

When Bob Flood underwent elective back surgery last summer, doctors told him he would be up and walking again in days. But 24 hours after getting home from UCSF Medical Center, he noticed that his wound was draining more than it should have. He had an infection.

“I was shocked. Especially when I found out what infection it was,” Flood said.

It was MRSA, a potentially deadly bacteria that is resistant to most antibiotics. The infection landed Flood back in the hospital for a month.

“Oh my God, that’s just something we never thought about,” said Flood’s wife Val. She was stunned, because as a retired nurse, she thought she had done her homework.

“We had made all the right choices, we had chosen a top notch neurosurgeon,” she said.

But one thing the Floods couldn’t research was how many infections have occurred recently at UCSF, or any hospital for that matter.

Even though a California law passed three years ago requires hospitals to report dozens of healthcare-associated infections, so far most have only reported on four types of infections.

All the infections that happen during surgery are still not reported. Now a lawsuit threatens to stall the whole process.

The California Hospital Association has filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Health, claiming the “surgery” reporting guidelines “create great burdens” on hospitals.

“It’s impossible to report everything that happens every day at every hospital,” said Debby Rogers of the California Hospital Association.

Rogers said the guidelines would require hospitals to input infection data on more than 900,000 surgeries by the end of this year. “What we think that this mandate will do is that it will take infection prevention activities away from the bedside and it will move it into entering data into a computer,” she said.

But critics said the hospitals have had plenty of time to prepare.

“Here we are due date and they are saying its too much work, its too complicated, they can’t do it,” said Lisa McGiffert with the Consumers’ Union Safe Patient Project.

The non-profit advocacy group lobbies for public disclosure of infections in hospitals nationwide, and she said it’s important. “When there is variability exposed to the public, the hospitals take note; they are the ones who are going to say whoa! I don’t want to be at the bottom. We need to do something here,” McGiffert said.

She added, “There has been generally a culture of delay, go slow, from the hospitals as well as the department. I think the lawsuit is definitely trying to stop the process.”

Rogers disagrees and said, “Hospitals want to report surgical site infections, but the department hasn’t given clear direction as to which surgical site procedures to actually provide them.”

But Rodgers admits hospitals already record all infections. The information is in each patient’s chart. So why not full disclosure? “We would need very skilled staff to report all the data that you are suggesting,” she said.

The Floods think there is another reason: “It’s probably because they would like to hide their numbers,” said Val Flood.

Lisa McGiffert with the Consumers’ Union agrees: “People are dying, people are being injured. We have to get this information out to the people as soon as possible.”

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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