Of Hospitals and Airplanes

Of Hospitals and Airplanes

On March 26, 2014, the media department of the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) released this news, “Despite Progress, Ongoing Effort Needed to Combat Infections Impacting Hospital Patients” (go here: to read the news release).

Here is a quote from the news release, “Although there has been some progress, today and every day, more than 200 Americans with healthcare-associated infections will die during their hospital stay, (emphasis added) said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.  “The most advanced medical care won’t work if clinicians don’t prevent infections through basic things such as regular hand hygiene.  Health care workers want the best for their patients; following standard infection control practices every time will help ensure their patients’ safety.”

I hear a collective yawn by hospital leadership after reading those words.  I can hear them discussing the CDC report in closed meetings, “After all, we do want the best for our patients.  With over 18 million Americans being hospitalized annually, we try our best to make sure they all have a positive experience.  But, we’re not perfect. No hospital is perfect.  HAIs happen!”

On March 8, 2014, an airplane flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport disappeared with 239 souls aboard.  At this point, the wreckage has still not been found and the fate of those aboard is uncertain.

CDC Director, Dr. Frieden stated that “today and every day, more than 200 Americans with healthcare-associated infections will die during their hospital stay.” What if an airplane with more than 200 Americans aboard crashed in the U.S. every day?  How many days would go by before Americans would be demanding that something be done NOW to fix the problem?  And, what if those angry Americans found out that the airline industry had the knowledge to prevent the deaths of 200 Americans daily, and they did not fully implement those changes they knew would save lives? 

Now, imagine a public hearing in front of a Congressional committee.  The hearing room is full of angry people who lost a mother, a daughter, a husband or another loved one to one of these daily airplane crashes. Through their angry shouts and tears they demand that “Congress do something about this needless loss of life.”

Switch the scene from the Congressional hearing room to the front entrance of your healthcare facility. The angry crowd gathered is carrying signs that say things like, “50% of XYZ Hospital’s Doctors and Nurses Don’t Wash Their Hands.” “My Daughter Died of MRSA That She Got Here as a Patient.” “Administration Doesn’t Care About Hospital-Associated Infections.” “If You Are Afraid of GERMS, Don’t Come Here!”  “This Place is Filthy!” 

When the TV reporter sticks a microphone in front of the organizer of the demonstration, she says, “Last year,  XYZ Hospital had 40,000 inpatient admissions.  Over 2,000 patients (5%), our loved ones who were admitted to this Hospital got something they didn’t come in with.  And of those 2,000 patients who got a Preventable Healthcare-Associated Infection here, 160 patients died needlessly!  Because of the Hospital’s indifference to their own protocols, policies, and best practices, we now have 160 little white crosses representing our loved ones who have died this past year.” (The news camera pans the front lawn of your facility. There, row after row of little white crosses make a powerful, but silent statement, Hospital leadership is either out of touch with reality or doesn’t care.)

The community served by XYZ hospital does not accept the fact that their fellow citizens and loved ones have succumbed to Preventable Healthcare-Associated Infections while being treated at your facility.  And, the news media coverage is excoriating as the 6 o’clock news anchor reports on the daily demonstrations at your facility.  The news anchor closes the story by stating, “Neither the XYZ Hospital’s Public Relations Director nor CEO returned our calls.”  The viewing public thinks out loud, “That’s because they are hiding under their desks!”

If we in healthcare accept that ZERO Preventable Healthcare-Associated Infections is our goal, then it will require a commitment by leadership and a partnership of their business partners (vendors).  Few actions in a hospital carry such an obvious return on investment as infection prevention and control.

“Proper education and leadership action can improve hand-washing.  Maintaining a sufficient environmental services staff, training them in proper procedures and providing them with cleaning materials (i.e., ultra microfiber wiping and mopping materials) that actually remove and contain pathogens costs little more than is currently spent on housekeeping.  And yet reports find that room cleaning has been sacrificed to budget cutting in many organizations,” said George Clarke, President of UMF PerfectClean in a white paper titled, “Doing Everything: Multimodal intervention to Prevent Healthcare-Associated Infections“, October 2012.

Clarke continues, “Setting cost aside, controlling infections is the right thing to do for their (Hospital XYZ) patients.  With MDROS (multi-drug resistant organisms) gaining ground on available antibiotics, the current estimated rate of infection is roughly five percent of all patients may be growing, even with reported advances on a few infections.  Saving patients and their loved ones from such needless suffering should be a top priority for all healthcare providers.”

At one point the CDC news release states, “…the reports show that progress has been made in the effort to eliminate infections that commonly threaten hospital patients, but more work is needed to improve patient safety.” 

More work is needed…what will you do?  Get mad?  Get passionate about proper hand hygiene?  What will you do to stop Preventable Healthcare-Associated Infections?




About Darrel Hicks

J. Darrel Hicks, B.A., is the author of Wiley Publishing's "Infection Prevention For Dummies", and is nationally recognized as one of the top experts in infection control. Darrel Hicks is also the Past President of the IEHA and is an active member in AHE where he holds the designation of CHESP. View all posts by Darrel Hicks

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