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Hospital's infection fight is an 'obsession'
Today is the 600th consecutive day that Stafford Hospital has gone without a MRSA infection

 Staff members Ella Glover (left) and Tyler Buckner wash their hands after seeing a patient at Stafford Hospital.
SUZANNE CARR ROSSI/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 11/9/2010

BY JIM HALL

Last week, before Dr. Hammad Hafeez entered one of the patient rooms on the third floor at Stafford Hospital, he reached for the hand cleaner in the hallway.

Hafeez, a hospitalist, squirted a dab of alcohol into his hands.

"We are trying to do our best," he said, when someone pointed out what he had done.

Hand-washing is a priority for Hafeez and for others at Stafford, judging by the hospital's record at controlling MRSA infections.

Today marks the 600th consecutive day that Stafford has gone without a MRSA infection. Patients may be sick when they enter Stafford, but to date, they've not been made sicker with the bacteria while there.

The only time a patient acquired a MRSA infection at Stafford was in March 2009, about three weeks after the hospital opened. Since then, 5,900 patients have been treated over 19 months with no other cases reported.

"When you're here, it's our job to treat what you came in for and not add any additional infection," said Dr. Amy Adome, vice president for quality and patient safety at Mary Washington Healthcare, Stafford's parent company.

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, is a potentially lethal bacteria that's resistant to common antibiotics.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that from 1999 through 2005, the number of MRSA-related hospitalizations in the United States doubled to 278,000 cases. During that time, MRSA-related deaths averaged 5,500 per year.

Since then, the numbers have declined because of prevention efforts by hospitals, according to the CDC.

At Stafford, these efforts include constant reminders to the staff about hand-washing, the use of "secret shoppers," or staff members to monitor hand-washing, and the publication of the running total of MRSA-free days.

"It's a bit of an obsession now, but hey, if we're obsessed about quality, we're doing the right thing," said Cathy Yablonski, the hospital's administrator.

MRSA bacteria are common in the community and present within many people who are carriers but not made sick by the organism.

In the hospital, the disease can be passed to patients, usually by direct contact with broken skin.

Some patients are screened for the disease when they arrive at Stafford. They include patients who have been in nursing homes or jails, and those who have been receiving dialysis treatments or have chronic wounds.

When patients test positive, the staff must wear a gown and gloves when caring for them. Special carts containing these supplies are posted outside the doors of infected patients.

Overall, the hospital's message to staff has been a simple one: MRSA infections are generally preventable if you are diligent.

"The most important thing is hand-washing, hand-washing, hand-washing, for everybody," Adome said.

Jim Hall: 540/374-5433
Email: jhall@freelancestar.com


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these precautions to hospital workers to prevent the spread of MRSA:

1. Wear gloves and a gown if you expect to be in contact with blood or other potentially infectious material.

2. Wash your hands after removing your gloves, between patient contacts.

3. Wear eye, nose and mouth protection if what you are doing may produce a splash or spray.

Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Stafford's older sibling, has recorded eight MRSA infections this year.

The hospital's MRSA infection rate is .07 cases per 1,000 patient days, said Dr. Amy Adome, vice president for quality and patient safety.

The rate has declined over the last three years and today meets the goal set by VHA, a national network of hospitals, Adome said.

Mary Washington officials do a "deep dive" investigation after each MRSA infection to make sure correct procedures were followed.

The most recent case involved a patient who was receiving dialysis. The investigation found no lapse in care, Adome said.