Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are at the forefront of healthcare conversation and have a direct impact on hospitals’ bottom line. And no wonder – HAIs are one of the leading causes of deaths in the U.S., the fourth leading cause of death in Canada, and cost the industry billions of dollars a year.
When patients enter a healthcare facility, they do so with the hope that they will leave in a healthier state than when they arrived. Tragically, that was not the case for Kim Smith, a community corrections employee in Winnipeg who went in for a routine hysterectomy and ovary removal. Within six days of the surgery, Kim’s life was hanging in the balance. Staff did not adequately ensure that they disinfected Kim’s stomach prior to performing the hysterectomy, which would have prevented the bacteria from entering the incision. Kim went through varying degrees of pain prior to undergoing an emergency surgery: gastrointestinal bloating and discomfort, heartburn, nausea, projectile vomiting, gas pains, self-destructive thoughts and strange purple discoloring of her feet – the sign that finally raised an alarm. When Kim went in for the emergency surgery, the doctors found that the infection had already expanded through the lining of the abdomen and abdominal muscles and a successful recovery was highly unlikely given that a bacterial infection has a 70% death rate. Kim’s death was a tragedy that occurs all too frequently.
While HAIs cause thousands of needless deaths across the globe, they negatively affect lives of even more people. Ellen Hargett, who built her career around quality and process improvement in hospitals, knows all too well the severity of these infections. Day in and day out, she has worked on improving quality in healthcare and never imagined that she would fall victim to an HAI in her own facility. Just one month after her hysterectomy for stage II uterine cancer, she developed a large mass of dead tissue in her abdomen, which led to MRSA. After eight months of treatments and missed work, three additional hospitalizations and two major surgeries,Ellen successfully beat the infection and is now sharing her story to bring awareness to the human tragedies that are associated with HAIs. She survived but her painful experience impacted her life in many ways and could certainly have been avoided.
Not all HAIs can be prevented but they can be significantly reduced if healthcare facilities take action in precautionary measures. Knowing that germs leading to HAIs are most commonly spread on hands of healthcare workers, proper hand hygiene education and measurement of hand hygiene compliance can dramatically reduce the number of patients infected.
Patients matter. They deserve the right to enter a healthcare facility and feel confident that they will indeed be better off, not worse, when they leave. Taking a small step, such as increasing hand hygiene compliance,can help make a great deal of difference and provide a higher level of care while reassuring patients that they are in good – and clean – hands.
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