Bloodstream infections: How do Bay Area hospitals rate?

February 4, 2010 5:38:03 PM PST
A new survey out shows a handful of Bay Area hospitals score poorly when it comes to protecting their patients from deadly bloodstream infections. They are hospitals' dirty and deadly little secret -- central line bloodstream infections. At least 30,000 patients die each year from them.

A Consumer Reports analysis found following simple hygienic steps have virtually eliminated these infections, but all too many are failing to act.

When Carol Bradley was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2008, she had no idea it would be infections she contracted in the hospital that would have her fighting for her life. Her infection is blamed on a central line catheter.

She says her daughter saw something had gone very wrong.

"She saw me laying there looking dead," Bradley said.

Bradley spent about three weeks in intensive care and was on antibiotics for more than a year.

In intensive care units, central lines can be essential to treatment. The long, flexible catheters can quickly deliver vital medication, nutrition and fluids. But they can just as quickly deliver deadly bacteria in the bloodstream.

"The infection goes right into the bloodstream and can spread easily through the body and result in a very serious illness," director of Consumer Reports Health Rating Center director John Santa said. "Some studies suggest that the death rate can be as high as 50 percent."

Locally, the latest data shows 13 Bay Area hospitals had no infections at all.

"There is no community in the United States that we have found more hospitals with zero infections in than in the Bay Area," Santa said.

Eleven had rates better than the national average. But five had infection rates worse, including three with infection rates of 75 to 85 percent worse than average.

San Ramon Regional Medical Center had an infection rate of 83 percent above the national average. The much larger UCSF Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Oakland also scored poorly with infection rates of 80 and 77 percent worse than average.

"I think that you should be alarmed and you should be concerned," Santa said. "And if that's a hospital you go to regularly or your doctor goes to regularly, it's very justified for you to ask what's going on here."

UCSF tells 7 On Your side it is "committed to continuing improving." It says its "current infection rate has been reduced by over 50 percent" since 2008.

Kaiser correctly points out that four of its Bay Area hospitals had no infections in 2008. Kaiser says Oakland is taking "aggressive steps to reduce central line infections."

San Ramon Regional Medical Center says it has "taken a number of steps" and has had "no infections since July 2009."

Hospitals can eliminate these infections by following simple sterile techniques such as washing hands.

"Our analysis of 926 hospitals in 43 states found that some hospitals have virtually eliminated these infections," Nancy Metcalf of Consumer Reports said.

Twenty-five Bay Area hospitals have not made their infection rates public. But a new state law will make reporting mandatory by next year.

Click here for a chart displaying the infection rates of those hospitals that did report.

Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union. Both Consumer Reports and Consumers Union are not-for-profit organizations that accept no advertising. Neither has any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.

(All Consumer Reports Material Copyright 2010. Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)