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States Push to Disclose Hospital Infection Rates

Each year 90,000 people die after picking up a bacterial infection in a hospital, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A handful of states have new initiatives to reduce these hospital-acquired infections, with Florida and Pennsylvania leading the way.

Sandra Grello, 51 of Allentown, Pa., expected a quick recovery following an elective hip surgery. But during her hospital stay, Grello says she acquired an antibiotic-resistant staph infection. She says it was diagnosed as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

"It really took a toll on my body. I was unable to work," says Grello. "My husband had to hire someone to take care of me, so the costs were extraordinary."

Marc Volavka, director of Pennsylvania's Health Care Cost Containment Council, hopes to spare future patients from hospital-acquired infections. The state is now requiring every hospital to disclose infection rates.

The goal, says Volavka, is "to publicly release information that will help the public identify (hospitals and all health care) providers that are doing a better job of preventing infection than those that aren't."

The Florida Health Care Administration is promoting a similar initiative. Last November it launched FloridaCompareCare.gov, a Web site that ranks each health-care facility in the state.

"The first day that we had it online, we had 70,000 hits, and we're averaging 1,000 to 2,000 a day," says Allen Levine, secretary of the administration.

Hospitals are listed as below average, above, or just average. Levine says the ultimate goal is more specificity.

For the time being, there are loopholes in all the state efforts. Take for instance the case of Pennsylvania patient Sandra Grello. Documentation of her infection never showed up on her hospital paperwork.

Her discharge diagnosis only noted "complications" from hip surgery, Grello says. "It never said hospital-acquired MRSA infection."

As the systems are refined, the hope is that the mandatory disclosure will prompt hospitals to improve their surveillance and operating procedures.

"Most of these infections are preventable, and clearly there is much that hospitals could do that they're not doing today," says Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumer Union's StopHospitalInfections.org project.

McGiffert says hospitals can take steps such as enforcing hand-washing procedures and standardizing the way antibiotics are administered to patients before and after surgery.

A number of states are moving closer to passing hospital infection reporting laws. Six states have already adopted them.

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