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.)

Comments (5)
  1. Betty says:

    In 2009 I was hosptailized and contracted MRSA, I am one of the lucky ones that survived it more then once in two different hospitals in the Central Valley within 3 weeks of each other. I ended up fighting for my life on and off for 4 month’s and I won the battle but it was not an easy fight…. I will aways have let hospital personell know that I have had it, this allows them to seperate me from others as a potential carrier…. Something really needs to be done about this, it is deadly I thank God everyday he gave me the the fight to fight it.

  2. Brian Schwartz says:

    Back in 1997 I was in for a fairly routine back surgery and the doctors said I would be up and walking in no time with some hospital stay after the surgery. They sent me home without knowing I had an infection. I wasn’t healing much at all and I was feeling worse instead of better. This went on for about a week or when they took the staples out. Which was unbearable to stand the pain. I remember at that time the nurse did nothing except say that it will heal. I continued to get sicker the following day until I went to the emergency room and get checked out. They ran a few test and came back to tell me I have an infection. They admitted me right away, I never fully recovered from the back surgery The hospital didn’t show much concern or compassion when I confronted them. How dose this kind of thing happen? It just dose and I’ve paid for it up till this day. Idays in the hospital and three months of home health care with a nurse three times a week and a pick line for antibiotics and pain medication. This was at Wahsingtom Hospital in Fremont. I was still young at that time and strong. But after the surgery I was never able to pick up my daughter or go on wild rides at the fair and amusement parks with her. My life crumbled for a while agter that.

  3. Rob Webber says:

    The Hospital Association should be ashamed for filing this lawsuit and deserve to lose! Hospitals are big money operations and they CAN afford the resources to report these infection cases. They simply don’t want us to know! We can go to any restaurant in California and see the restaurant’s health department rating right on the front window, A, B, C… Lets do that with Hospitals too! Guess how many people are going to step foot in a hospital with a BIG “D” on the front window!? This is all about cover up and has nothing to do with lack of staff, PERIOD.

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