The Impact of Multi-Drug Resistant Organisms

It was the worst day of his life. His 9-year old son was staring with incredulity at his 5-year old sister crying uncontrollably in his father’s arms. Through his own tears and a quivering voice their father was consoling his 5-year old in one arm while hugging his 16-month old daughter in the other arm.

His wife, their mother, had just died from MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). As a 37-year old professional with a demanding job, his mind was in a fog as he grappled with life without his wife.

My daughter-in-law, the mother of my grandchildren was gone and her passing has forever impacted our family. The anger and heartbreak of a preventable event is sometimes too much to bear.

Meanwhile, somewhere else in America, an 87-year old widow is presented a trifold American flag at the graveside of her husband of 69 years.

Joe had passed away from C-diff (Clostridium difficile) he had contracted while a resident of the Alzheimer unit at their small town’s only nursing home. Joe had survived Inchon in the Korean War but succumbed to the silent killer who stalked him in the quietness of his confused world.

The Wisconsin Law Journal reports that a new type of medical malpractice lawsuits is on the rise. These suits allege hospital negligence in failing to prevent hospital acquired infections. Multi-million dollar awards have been reported in these types of cases. For instance, a jury awarded a $13.5 million verdict involving a Massachusetts woman who died from a flesh eating bacterial infection she acquired while undergoing cancer treatment. A Utah woman also entered into a confidential $16 million settlement to resolve a lawsuit she filed alleging that a hospital failed to catch flesh-eating bacteria that caused her to lose three limbs and several organs.

Lawyers and the medical community are debunking the myth that these infections are not preventable. The Centers for Disease and Prevention Control (CDC) estimates that over 2 million hospital acquired infections occur annually and are responsible for 90,000 deaths. While not all these infections are necessarily the result of negligence, the founder and chair of the non-profit patient safety organization Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, Betsy McCaughy, has explained that “the evidence is overwhelming that nearly all infections are preventable.”

The standard of care governing prevention of these infections is evolving. The CDC has published guidelines for preventing these infections. Another non-profit that evaluates and accredits health care programs, the Joint Commission, has released its own set of strategies for preventing infections. As Ms. McCaughy puts it, “hospitals that don’t follow the proven protocols are inviting lawsuits.”

The Fact is…proper cleaning and disinfection saves lives and the bottom-line. The fact that surfaces appearing to be clean might not be clean when scientifically quantified or qualified. Remember: What you can’t see can hurt you.