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The Fight to Prevent Hospital-Related Infections

Colorado’s recent efforts to reduce “health-care-associated infections” have been working, but we still have a few issues to tackle.

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Denver’s Porter Adventist Hospital made headlines this past spring when officials discovered that sterilization protocols had been breached during more than 18 months of orthopedic and spinal surgeries. Although patients were notified of exposure, it’s unclear exactly how many infections can be traced back to the cleaning lapse. The incident did, however, serve as an important reminder that getting sick can be an unfortunate side effect of getting well when you’re in a health care facility.

The good news? Porter’s misstep notwithstanding, Colorado’s recent efforts to reduce “health-care-associated infections” (HAIs) have been working. In 2015, we ranked worse than the national average on nearly a third of the 13 measured HAIs. By 2017, we lagged behind in only one. Among our major improvements: the prevention of Clostridioides difficile (or C. diff). The bacterium causes severe diarrhea but can also lead to life-threatening inflammation of the colon; sickness from C. diff most commonly occurs following antibiotic use because antibiotics can also kill good bacteria that protect against C. diff. For unknown reasons, “the Denver metro area tends to be a hot spot,” says Alice Hughes, director of infection prevention at Centura Health. But statewide efforts—for example, new standardized cleaning processes (the bacterium is killed by bleach) at Centura facilities—have vastly improved the C. diff infection rate over the past three years. “C. diff is one of the infections that preventionists struggle with the most in the hospital,” says Toni Foos, infection prevention manager for the Colorado Hospital Association. “We don’t want to see any patients infected, but the road to zero can take a while.”

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Despite the gains in curbing C. diff infections and the efforts of more than 100 certified infection preventionists in Colorado—every local hospital has at least one on staff—there’s work to be done. For instance, Colorado’s infection rates for local-access sites—where a needle or graft enters the body—at outpatient dialysis facilities are still 22 percent higher than the national average, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. But patients and their families can help: Talk to your provider about your antibiotic dose; make sure you understand and follow all post-procedure instructions; read the published reports on infection rates when deciding on a health care facility; and, most important, wash your hands. “Infection prevention is not the responsibility of just one or two people in a hospital,” Foos says. “It’s the responsibility of everybody working in and visiting the hospital.”

A Fort Collins Couple Finds A Way To Get Sick Residents To Their Appointments

The service may be coming to an area near you. —Shauna Farnell

Photo courtesy of Jimena Peck

Getting from A to B if you’re elderly or have disabilities can be challenging and stressful. Jason Brabson realized as much after a stint working for Yellow Cab in Fort Collins, where he witnessed a dire need for more reliable and compassionate transportation for people who use wheelchairs, depend on dialysis, or are blind, hearing-impaired, or developmentally disabled. So he and his wife, Jung Mi, launched Heart & Soul Paratransit, a Fort Collins–based company that specializes in driving anyone in need to and from medical visits and personal errands. Each of his drivers undergoes 40 to 60 hours of intensive training in door-through-door special services, and the company regularly serves northern Colorado. Brabson hopes to expand Heart & Soul’s services throughout Colorado.

“The mission is to help change nonemergency Medicaid transportation,” Brabson says. “People without a voice are being left behind. I’ve met people who have been so frustrated or badly treated by drivers and transportation services that they’ve missed dialysis or attempted to drive themselves, putting their health at risk. We want to build a coalition of compassionate organizations.”

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