Injury Law Alert - Summer 2010 Issue
Hemmings & Stevens, PLLC Law Firm of Raleigh, NC
PREVENTABLE INFECTIONS ON THE RISE
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), patients in American hospitals come down with over 2 million hospital-acquired infections each year, 90,000 of which result in death. Nor are nursing home patients immune: The CDC estimates that this population suffers another 1.5 million preventable infections each year, for a total of 3.5 million facility-acquired infections annually. While these numbers are grim enough on their own, they become even more so when you realize that, by comparison, the incidence of new AIDS infections ranges from 38,000 to 56,000 per year, while AIDS deaths number about 16,000 per year. Given the lack of news coverage regarding the number of deaths caused by infections, it could be called a silent epidemic.
The number of such infections has been on the rise in recent years, although experts disagree about the reasons. Some point to the rise in the number of infectious agents that are resistant to some or all of the antibiotics used to treat infections. Others point to the increasing prevalence of HMOs, which can result in patients' not being treated by a specialist trained to recognize an infection until after it has become established, when it is more difficult to treat. Others claim that the infection rate is the same as it has always been, and it is just that reporting has gotten better.
Many authorities reject hospitals' traditional response to complaints about infections acquired in their facilities - that a certain number of infections is inevitable - and have concluded that most of these infections result from the failure of the hospital or its staff to strictly follow the rules intended to prevent the infections.
The response to this information has led to a legal revolution that will hopefully bring about a health-care revolution. More than half of the states have passed laws requiring hospital-acquired infections to be reported to state health authorities, so people have a better idea of the scope of the problem. The CDC itself has given the issue much more attention than it ever did in the past, and has recently issued guidelines that hospitals and nursing homes should follow to prevent infections in their patients. So has the Joint Commission, a body that gives hospitals their accreditation and whose regulations are considered by many to be a good statement of the standards that hospitals should follow.
These changes are not just regulatory, but also legal. Lawyers who counsel hospitals and nursing homes have taken these standards seriously, and they advise their clients to enact protocols to ensure that these standards are met, rules that can include something as simple as requiring the staff to wash or otherwise disinfect their hands when moving from one patient to another.
Lawyers also advise hospitals to regularly screen patients for the presence of drug-resistant organisms and to regularly use instruments that have been pretreated with antibiotics to prevent infections before they occur. In recent years, based on these recommendations, many facilities have overhauled their policies and procedures that are intended to prevent infections, even imposing penalties on doctors and staff who are caught failing to obey the new, stricter rules.
However, because not all hospitals and nursing homes have gotten the message, and because some of them allow profits to come before patient care, another legal avenue is being pursued: litigation. With the problem of hospital-acquired infections now well known, and with the enactment of many new regulations designed to address the issue, hospitals are finding it harder to avoid liability when a patient does become infected.
In some rare cases, juries are awarding tens of millions of dollars to patients who contracted serious bacterial infections while they were patients at hospitals or nursing homes, infections that often involve drug-resistant, flesh-eating bacteria and that lead to death or to the loss of limbs and organs. Most experts agree that the publicity given to the problem has also made jurors more aware of the problem, and so less tolerant of a hospital's lack of a similar awareness and concern.
Despite increased awareness, lawsuits regarding facility-acquired infections can be difficult to win. Although the fact of the infection is known, the cause is often difficult to pinpoint. In some cases, the medical records allow experts to determine the likely source or cause of the infection, but, in others, it is not possible to know exactly where the infection came from and, therefore, who is at fault. This uncertainty means hospital infection cases must be handled very carefully by experienced lawyers to ensure that the injured patient or his or her surviving family have their day in court.
If you feel that you or someone you love may have been a victim of a preventable infection, contact us. We can help you determine the best course of action under the circumstances.
Thank you for trusting our firm with your legal needs. If you or someone you know has been injured due to somebody else's carelessness, please call us. We want to help.
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Negligent Truck Driver
A woman was killed when a truck lost part of its load: a 4,200-pound weight used to counterbalance construction cranes. The weight hit the woman's car, smashing the car and causing her death.
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