Inspect hospitals just like restaurants?

Betsy McCaughey is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, a non-profit working on the critical problem of eliminating hospital infections. I recommend downloading and filing for reference the RID brochure “15 Steps you can take to protect yourself“.

Here is her latest op-ed on hospital performance:

Last month, health inspectors in New York City shut down Serendipity, an upscale ice cream parlor. Though the closing made headlines, it is a common occurrence for less-famous eateries charged with violations like unclean cutting boards and floors, workers who fail to clean their hands, and improper food handling that could lead to bacterial contamination.

Restaurants in New York are inspected, without prior notice, once a year. In Los Angeles, inspections are done three times a year, and restaurants must display their grade near the front door. After L.A. instituted this inspection system in 1998, the number of people sickened by food-borne illnesses fell 13%, according to the Journal of Environmental Health. Other cities are now following L.A.’s lead.

Why aren’t hospitals held to the same rigorous standard? The consequences of inadequate hygiene are far deadlier in hospitals than in restaurants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 2,500 people die each year after picking up a food-borne illness in a restaurant or prepared food store. Forty times that number — 100,000 people — die each year, according to the CDC, from infections contracted in health-care facilities.

Data recently published by the Journal of the American Medical Association show that infections from just one type of bacteria — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) — kill about twice as many people in the U.S. as previously thought. The finding is based on lab tests, not on what hospitals report. If the same methodology were used to quantify deaths from all hospital infections, the death toll would likely be much larger than 100,000.

These infections are caused largely by unclean hands, inadequately cleaned equipment and contaminated clothing that allow bacteria to spread from patient to patient. In a study released in April, Boston University researchers examining 49 operating rooms at four New England hospitals found that more than half the objects that should have been disinfected were overlooked by cleaners.

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An earlier post on McGaughey: Hospital infections & how you can reduce your risks.