Las Vegas Sun

December 19, 2014

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Where I Stand:

Rise in infection rates, hospitals’ reticence are troublesome

Hospitals say they’re fighting the spread of bacteria, but most don’t want to release the results of those efforts

I have washed my hands more in hospitals during the past couple of years than I had ever done before. The signs are everywhere, telling us to do so, as a way to combat the spread of deadly bacteria that can infect not just the patients but even hospital visitors and employees.

You would think with all the attention some hospitals give to the issue, the spread of drug-resistant bacteria in hospitals would be falling. But as you read today’s Sun, you’ll learn that the number of bacterial infections in our local hospitals is rising.

That’s the troubling news in our second installment of “Do No Harm: Hospital Care in Las Vegas,” the culmination of two years of research, analysis and reporting by Marshall Allen and Alex Richards.

They obtained a record of every Nevada hospital inpatient visit going back a decade — 2.9 million in all — to develop a sweeping and detailed portrait of the quality of hospital care in Las Vegas. Their findings are based on facts, not perceptions.

Their first set of stories was published June 27, revealing how patients in 2008-09 suffered life-threatening injuries and illnesses in hospitals where they had gone for healing.

We wish there weren’t a need for the Sun to shine a light on data that reflect how well hospitals are doing. They ought to be offering this information on their own, in the spirit of transparency and for the public good.

But because they have resisted transparency, we are forcing the issue. Everyone has the right to know how each hospital measures up.

To their credit, four hospitals — St. Rose Dominican Hospitals’ three and University Medical Center — now agree with us, and have promised to release patient-care data.

There was some amount of public relations risk for St. Rose and UMC to step up to the plate, because their data may not be flattering. They stand to be embarrassed. But they are rising to the occasion because of a larger, altruistic principle: They agree with us that, whatever their numbers say, the public should know.

We hope other hospitals follow suit. And if they don’t, we have the right to wonder what they’re trying to hide.

Indeed, it’s time that hospitals put aside their self-interest and institutional egos and consider the broader, more noble good. In the meantime, the Sun will continue publishing the results of its investigation, informing the community about the quality of health care in our valley.

As for today’s stories: About 10 years ago, Sen. Ted Kennedy warned people to stay away from hospitals because, paradoxically, going to one could make you very sick.

And for all the money spent on research to kill bacteria, and for all the signs in hospitals admonishing us to wash our hands, the problem is worse today.

The sooner hospitals come clean about how well they’ve combated the infectious bacteria that thrive in their hallways, patient rooms and service areas, the sooner the public can assess those efforts and make smart decisions about where to seek medical care.

Then hospitals are likely to respond by ramping up their own efforts.

We can start by washing our hands.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.