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QUALITY: Hospitals Cut Back On Infection Prevention Efforts

Sen. Robert Byrd, 91, entered the hospital last month with what his office described as a minor infection.

And then he got a major infection. Acquired in the hospital. His office has said the staph infection is responding to treatment, but it has kept the frail West Virginia senator in the hospital for nearly a month. 

Reducing such infections has been a major goal of the health care quality movement. But now, the recession is forcing some hospitals to cut back on their infection control budgets, Maryn McKenna writes on her Superbug blog. Some of these infections can be mild; others are fatal. The CDC estimates that about 1.7 million people acquire some form of infection in the hospital each year; nearly 100,000 die. They also add billions of dollars to our health spending.

In a survey of 2,000 infection preventionists—conducted by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology—41 percent reported cuts in funding for infection-prevention efforts in the past 18 months due partly to the struggling economy.

According to the survey, three-quarters of those whose budgets were cut experienced decreases for the necessary education that trains healthcare personnel in preventing the transmission of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) such as MRSA and C. difficile. Half saw reductions in overall budgets for infection prevention, including money for technology, staff, education, products, equipment and updated resources.

The findings make clear that “cuts have impaired infection prevention programs—a third of the respondents say cuts in staffing and resources reduce their capacity to focus on infection prevention.” One-fourth of those surveyed “have had to reduce surveillance activities to detect, track and monitor HAIs.”

“We are concerned by these findings,” APIC President Christine Nutty said in a statement. “At a time when the federal government will be requiring hospitals to meet national targets for HAI reduction, infection prevention departments at our nation’s healthcare facilities need to be growing, not shrinking.”