Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), or hospital acquired infections, are a common, yet potentially deadly threat to patients in any healthcare setting. HAIs, also known as nosocomial infections, are any infections acquired in hospitals or other healthcare facilities that are not related to the original reason the patient was admitted. Most HAIs occur within a few days after the patient was admitted or discharged, or within a few weeks after an operation.
On any given day, about one in 25 hospital patients suffers from at least one HAI. These infections can have a devastating impact on patients and their families. HAI patients stay in the hospital 2.5 times longer on average than patients without infection. HAIs cost patients time away from their families and may add tens of thousands of dollars to their healthcare expenses. HAI complications often require treatment with harsh medications, additional surgeries, and even amputation. While most HAIs can be treated and resolved if caught early, others cause life-long health effects and some may even be fatal. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that as many as 75,000 patients lose their lives in hospitals each year from an HAI. Sadly, a great many of these deaths are preventable.
Common Types of Infections
- Catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI) – Urinary tract infections (UTI) are the most common type of HAI. Nearly three-quarters of hospital acquired UTIs are associated with a urinary catheter, a tiny tube inserted into the patient’s bladder through the urethra to drain urine. Up to one-quarter of patients admitted to the hospital will receive a urinary catheter during their stay. Prolonged use of the catheter and unsanitary conditions are major causes of CAUTIs.
- Central line-associated bloodstream infection (CLABSI) – A central line, or central catheter, is a tube that is placed into a large vein in the neck, chest, arm, or groin and is used to draw blood or administer fluids or medication. Unlike an IV, which is inserted into a vein near the skin’s surface and used only for a short time, a central line accesses a major vein that is close to the heart and can remain in place for weeks or months. When proper care is not taken to put the line in correctly or keep the area clean, the patient may develop a serious infection. Nearly one in four patients with a CLABSI do not survive.
- Surgical site infection (SSI) – Any type of surgery that causes a break in the skin can lead to an infection. SSIs range in severity from superficial, meaning only the area of skin around the incision is infected, to potentially life-threatening infections that affect deep tissues, organs, or the space between organs. An SSI typically develops within 30 days of surgery and often requires treatment with antibiotics or, in some cases, additional surgery. Risk factors for an SSI include the length of the surgery, use of equipment that was not properly sterilized, and failure to keep the surgical site clean during and after the operation.
- Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) – Many patients admitted to the hospital are placed on a ventilator to help with breathing. Oxygen is delivered via a tube placed in the patient’s mouth or nose, or through an incision in the front of the neck. If healthcare providers do not take care to wash their hands or keep equipment and the area around the patient clean, germs can enter the patient’s lungs and cause pneumonia. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare staff can reduce the risk of VAP by keeping the patient’s bed raised between 30 and 45 degrees.
Other Healthcare-Associated Diseases and Bacteria
Hospitals are teeming with dangerous germs. When proper care is not taken to protect patients, a serious and potentially deadly infection can result. Diseases and bacteria that commonly threaten patients in hospital settings include:
- Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)
- Clostridium difficile (C. diff)
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Tuberculosis (TB)
- Vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus
Associated Risk Factors
- Medical negligence by staff – Doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and other care providers can reduce HAI occurrence by implementing a prevention plan that includes specific guidelines regarding: frequency of hand washing; prudent use of antibiotics; monitoring of the patient’s condition or surgical site; and avoiding errors in communication.
- Organization risk factors – The overall cleanliness of the facility can have a significant impact on a patient’s chance of getting an HAI. Other factors include patient proximity, sterility of medical devices, and the proper care and maintenance of water treatment systems and HVAC filtration.
- Patient risk factors – Certain factors that may make some patients more likely to develop an HAI include: the duration of their stay in the hospital; their age and overall health; and the function and capacity of their immune system.
An HAI can happen anywhere medical services are rendered, including hospitals, nursing homes, dialysis facilities, physician’s offices, outpatient surgical centers, rehabilitation centers, and urgent care facilities. If medical negligence is the suspected cause of the infection, a qualified New Jersey medical malpractice lawyer should be contacted immediately. The patient or their family may be able to bring legal action against the facility or a responsible member of its staff.
A successful medical malpractice lawsuit requires proof that: a.) the person or entity had an obligation to conform to a recognized standard of care; b.) there was a breach in that duty; and c.) that breach was a direct cause of the patient’s injury.
There are a number of ways in which doctors and hospital staff can fail in their duty towards patients. These include:
- Communication errors between medical staff
- Early discharge of patients
- Failure to diagnose or properly care for an infection
- Failure to give patients proper instructions upon discharge in regards to the care and cleaning of a wound or surgical site
- Failure to monitor patients for signs of infection
- Failure to wash hands prior to and during handling of patients
- Medication errors, including failure to note resistance to antibiotics
- Overuse of antibiotics
- Surgical errors, including leaving foreign material behind inside the patient’s body
- Understaffing or inadequate supervision of hospital staff resulting in lack of proper patient care
Determining liability in HAI cases requires both an in-depth knowledge of the medical field and the resources needed to conduct a thorough investigation. South Jersey medical malpractice lawyers at Folkman Law have the proven ability to identify all responsible parties and hold them accountable. We have successfully recovered millions for victims of hospital negligence and their families.
South Jersey Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Folkman Law, P.C. Advocate for Those Suffering From an HAI Caused by Medical Negligence
If you or a loved one was hospitalized and acquired a serious infection that was unrelated to the original reason for which treatment was sought, you may be entitled to compensation. Call Folkman Law today to discuss your legal options with one of our compassionate and knowledgeable South Jersey medical malpractice lawyers. Call 856-354-9444 today to schedule a free consultation or contact us online. We represent clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.