WXXI Local Stories
1:57 pm
Wed February 3, 2010

Consumer Reports Pans Hospital Infection Rates

Rochester, NY – Consumer Reports has released a listing of hospitals, based on their rate of hospital-acquired infections - and several local hospitals do not fare well.

Highland, Rochester General, and Strong Memorial Hospitals all received a "worse than average" ratings from the non-profit.

Dr. John Santa is the director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. He says infections like "central line infections" - which patients pick up in the intensive care unit - can be prevented by taking simple, low-tech precautions. Those precautions are called a "bundle," or a "checklist," and some hospitals are beginning to follow them religiously to avoid infection.

"There are diseases that consumers get in hospitals. Consumers don't cause these, patients don't cause these. It's not their fault that they get these infections. It is actually the fault of the hospital or the doctors taking care of them ... these central line infections are the first of these that have been shown to be totally preventable in the right set of circumstances."

Santa says hospitals have to adopt precautions wholesale, driven from top hospital leadership on down.

But officials at Strong Memorial says they are taking precautions to prevent central lines, or central venous catheters, from becoming infected.

Strong's hospital epidemiologist, Dr. Paul Graman, says the Consumer Reports data is from 2008, and doesn't necessarily reflect what patients experience now at the hospital.

"It's old news to some extent and we have made very significant strides in reducing those rates since then. And we put into place the kind of bundled measures that ... were referred to in [Consumer Reports]."

Graman agrees with the magazine that simple steps like hand-washing can prevent infection - and he says Strong has been placing an emphasis on those steps since the infection data was first reported to New York State, two years ago.

The only hospital in the Rochester region that reported no infections is the Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca. Unity Hospital received a "better than average" rating.

Santa says large hospitals like Strong aren't doomed to high infection rates. He says other hospitals, like the University of Pittsburgh, which serve "complicated urban populations" have been successful in bringing down infection rates. But he acknowledges that hospitals sometimes struggle with simple measures; he says hospitals "know the right thing to do - it's a matter of doing it."

But Graman says he has some reservations about the data that the magazine reported, including the supposition that several large hospitals reported no central line infections in their intensive care units during the study.

Rochester General Hospital also points out that the data in Consumer Reports is more than a year old. They released a statement including this informatoin about improvements in patient safety:
"We continue to follow evidenced based guidelines including skin prep, checklist and the central line bundle which includes a series of interventions aimed at reducing these infections including removing catheters and lines as soon as possible. Equally important is the development of a culture of safety where the entire team monitors each other and identifies and intervenes if there is potential for harm. The patient is the center of this approach and patients are encouraged to participate and are educated as to their role in the prevention of infection."