Report: California hospitals show progress preventing infections

Mercy Medical Center in Merced had an infection rate about the same as the state average in 2013, according to a California Department of Public Health study of 424 acute care hospitals.
Mercy Medical Center in Merced had an infection rate about the same as the state average in 2013, according to a California Department of Public Health study of 424 acute care hospitals. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

Infections in health care settings continue to be a public health risk in California, the state revealed in a report last week.

According to data released by the California Department of Public Health, 424 acute care hospitals reported 18,780 infections in 2013.

But overall, according to the state, the report showed that California hospitals have demonstrated progress in preventing infections.

The report showed that the number of incidents of most infections is decreasing, with the exception of clostridium difficile infections, which cause diarrhea and other intestinal conditions. This type of infection increased 5 percent since 2011.

By law, hospitals must report cases of C. difficile, as well as cases of two drug-resistant infections — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci. Central line bloodstream infections and infections that occur at surgical sites also must be reported.

Surgical site infections have decreased 44 percent since 2008, according to the report.

The report highlighted 61 hospitals that demonstrated significant reductions in infections from 2012 to 2013. It also identified 112 hospitals statewide with significantly high infection rates.

Within the group of hospitals with too many infections are Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock and Memorial Medical Center in Modesto.

For example, according to the data, the number of hospital-onset cases of C.difficile, the diarrheal infection, jumped from 36 in 2012 to 44 at Emanuel in 2013. At Memorial, the number of cases went down from 92 in 2012 to 79 in 2013.

According to the state Public Health Department, patients can be exposed to the C. difficile bacterium through contaminated surfaces. Spores also can be transferred on unclean hands.

Pennie Rorex, a spokeswoman for Emanuel Medical Center, said in an email statement that the hospital is working on ways to improve infection prevention by “focusing on early identification, implementing more stringent isolation precautions and enhancing our monitoring of antibiotic use.”

“We are also collaborating with other community providers on ways to reduce the incidence of (C. difficile) before a patient is transferred to the hospital,” she added.

In a statement, Memorial Medical Center said it implements procedures to prevent hospital-acquired infections. To combat C. difficile infections, patients coming into the hospital are screened for symptoms of the disorder.

“We also monitor the use of antibiotics to make sure they are being used appropriately,” Memorial’s statement said. “To help prevent the spread of all infections, our staff is committed to using good hand hygiene practices, as well as effective isolation procedures for patients diagnosed with an infection.”

The infection rate at Mercy Medical Center in Merced was about the same as the California average, according to the report.

At Mercy, the number of C. difficile infections rose from 16 in 2012 to 22 in 2013. A hospital profile attached to the report showed that the incidence rate of surgical site infections at Mercy, including infections after colon surgeries, hip and knee replacements, and abdominal hysterectomies is about the same as the national average. Meanwhile, the rate of cesarean section infections at Mercy is lower than the national average.

Vanessa Collins, an infection preventionist at Mercy, said good hand hygiene, as simple as it sounds, is ultimately the most important factor in preventing infections. Clean hands, she said, are not only the responsibility of hospital staff, but also of patients and visitors.

“We have also implemented evidence-based practices for identifying and isolating individuals with drug-resistant infections,” Collins said.

The state Public Health Department also released information on vaccination rates for hospital employees. In 2013-14, 85 percent of hospitals in California had 60 percent of their employees vaccinated for influenza. In 2012-13, 71 percent of hospital employees got flu shots.

The 2013-14 numbers showed that 64 percent of hospital personnel at Emanuel Medical Center were vaccinated. At Mercy Medical Center, 70percent of employees were shown to be vaccinated against flu.

Greg Rouleau, chief nursing officer at Mercy, said staff members are continuously reminded of the importance of getting the flu shot and are offered incentives to do so as a protection method for themselves, their families and their patients.