Despite progress, Maine hospitals fall short of goals to reduce common infections

Maine hospitals are falling short of national goals to reduce several types of potentially life-threatening infections, according to new data released Wednesday.

Still, the state’s medical centers dramatically cut infections from one kind of “superbug” that often strikes the elderly, and modestly reduced several others.

On any given day, one in 25 hospital patients in the U.S. contracts an infection from a healthcare facility, according to a recent study. Such infections injure nearly 650,000 hospital patients each year and cause 75,000 deaths.

In 2008 and 2009, the federal government set goals for hospitals to reduce four types of infections within five years:

1. Blood infections associated with the use of central line catheters, or tubes inserted into a large vein to deliver medicine. Goal: cut 50 percent.

2. Urinary tract infections associated with the use of catheters. Goal: cut 25 percent.

3. Surgical infections resulting from abdominal hysterectomies. Goal: cut 25 percent.

4. Surgical infections resulting from colon surgery. Goal: cut 25 percent.

Maine hospitals — and hospitals on the whole nationally — failed to meet all of those goals, according to the new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

“The fact that we’re seeing fewer hospital-acquired infections is encouraging, but the failure of hospitals to meet the goals set by the government makes it brutally clear that much more needs to be done,” Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project, said in a news release.

Other notable results for Maine:

— Urinary tract infections associated with catheters dipped overall from 2012 to 2013, but still remain a worrying 72 percent higher than the baseline set in 2009. Hospitals performed poorly on this measure nationally, but Maine hospitals did even worse.

— Infections from bowel surgery are similarly down year-over-year, but still exceed the baseline set in 2008.

— Maine hospitals really cracked down on Clostridium difficile, a gastrointestinal “superbug” that most often strikes people who are both taking antibiotics and receiving medical treatment. C. difficile causes diarrhea that can progress to sepsis and death, particularly among the elderly. This was a bright spot for Maine in the report.

— Maine made modest improvements in reducing blood infections associated with central line catheters, surgical infections from abdominal hysterectomies, and methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, another nasty superbug that’s grown resistant to antibiotics.

Keep in mind, this data is now two years old. Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine CDC, said Maine hospitals have continued to make progress, further reducing central line infections and rates of MRSA. But the state has lots of work to do, she said.

“Little by little we will get there,” Pinette said.

If you can plan for your next hospital visit, such as an elective procedure, ask the hospital for its infection rate, she said. (Or visit the government’s Hospital Compare website to check your local facility). Make sure the doctors and nurses treating you wash their hands, and if you feel ill or develop a fever after a procedure, speak up, Pinette said.




Jackie Farwell

About Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and finding new ways to help you stay well. I live in Gorham with my husband Nick and our hound dog Riley.