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December 21, 2014

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Hospital’s sanitation promises quickly forgotten

State Health Board said no to fewer sinks, citing basic hygiene

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Steve Marcus

MountainView Hospital

In July 2008, MountainView Hospital executives learned their infection control practices were so bad the federal government was ready to send its Medicare patients — the bulk of the hospital's business — elsewhere.

Nevada health inspectors had found multiple infection control violations at MountainView, including blood on a lab floor, a physician assistant contaminating equipment with bloody gloves, and no system to track whether patients had picked up an infection after undergoing an outpatient endoscopy or cardiac catheterization procedure.

Wary of losing government-insured patients, MountainView CEO Will Wagnon pledged every effort to reduce hospital-acquired infections. And the hospital implemented wide-ranging corrections.

Medicare funding was saved.

Yet in health care there is always tension between providing safe, excellent care and making a profit. MountainView is part of Sunrise Health System, owned by Tennessee-based Hospital Corporation of America, a publicly traded company that expects returns from Las Vegas.

Despite his pronouncements on the hospital's unwavering commitment to infection control, Wagnon within weeks was arguing to spare expenses on that front — specifically, for a variance from the State Health Board to leave sinks out of bathrooms in a dozen pediatric rooms.

State regulations require bathrooms in every hospital room because access to hand-washing equipment helps protect patients from infections caused by highly contagious, drug-resistant bacteria.

When the Health Board considered the hospital's request in October 2008, MountainView officials argued that installing sinks in the bathrooms would cause undue hardship. It would cost $300,000, and require closing beds in the intensive care unit below the pediatric rooms for the two months of construction, officials said.

Wagnon assured board members at the public meeting that MountainView had exceptional infection control and hand-washing standards.

Without mentioning its recent troubles with Medicare, Wagnon said: "We have redoubled our efforts in infection control and hand hygiene. In the last month we've taken hand hygiene very seriously because it's paramount to the national safety goal of reducing hospital-acquired infections."

The board denied MountainView's request.

"This is just basic sanitation. There's no way I can support a variance on that," said Roger Works, a veterinarian who sits on the board.

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