Was Your Loved One’s Hospital Infection Avoidable?
Hospital infections are more common than most people realize.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that around 1.7 million infections and almost 100,000 deaths result each year from these infections. It is likely that many more cases go unreported.
In fact, the U.S. government is so concerned about this problem that there is a federal act that supports states in preventing and reducing the number of infections. The CDC has a page dedicated to it on its website.
If a loved one has recently contributed to these alarming statistics, you may be left wondering whether the infection was avoidable?
Thousands of patients in U.S. hospitals have found that not only was the infection avoidable but the hospital may be liable for damages.
However, cases are complex and many people fail to follow up on and assert their legal rights.
What are some common hospital infections?
Hospital infections are known as “healthcare-acquired infections” (HAIs) or nosocomial infections.
They are infections that start during treatment for medical or surgical conditions.
The common misconception is that only people who have surgery are at risk. In reality, if you or a loved one are admitted to the hospital, you are at risk of contracting an infection.
Some common examples of hospital infections include:
- Urinary tract infections
- Surgical site infections
- Pneumonia and lung infections
- Bloodstream infections
- Gastrointestinal infections (particularly common where antibiotics are administered long-term)
These infections can cause severe symptoms and some are life-threatening.
In the best-case scenarios, they lead to considerable extra time in hospital or the need to be re-admitted after discharge (sometimes into an intensive care unit).
In the worst-case scenarios, patients die.
Sometimes, particularly in elderly people, infants, and people with compromised immune systems, when the body responds to an infection and chemicals are released into the blood to fight it, the body’s response is out of balance. This can lead to damaged organs (sepsis).
If blood pressure drops and the body enters septic shock, a patient’s condition can worsen rapidly and the consequences can be deadly.
In fact, according to a 2019 study of 568 people who had died in hospitals (average age 70) more than half had sepsis. It was the immediate cause of death for nearly 200 of these patients.
Also, while many infections contracted in the hospital respond to antibiotics and are quickly treated, some are resistant to antibiotics.
There is concern over Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), for instance, a superbug that is resistant to many of the antibiotics used to treat “staph” bacterial infections.
Most MRSA infections occur in people who’ve been in hospitals or other health facilities. According to the CDC, it can lead to:
- Bloodstream infections
- Surgical site infections
What’s more, the fact that many people in the hospital are elderly and have already-compromised immune systems makes almost any infection more serious.
How can they be avoided?
Elderly people and infants (with weak immune systems) are more susceptible to infection than other hospital patients.
Infections are known to be more common in situations where the patient:
- Has an extended stay in hospital
- Has an “indwelling” catheter (a tube placed into a large vein and used to administer fluids/medications or to draw blood)
- Takes antibiotics for a long time e.g. the risk of clostridium difficile infection is higher if antibiotics are taken for an extended period
In many cases, infections are avoidable. Healthcare-acquired infections can often be prevented by staff following standard practices for hospitals.
Disregarding best practices and medical protocols can put patients at risk of infection.
For instance, the failure of hospital staff to wash hands regularly and thoroughly, and passing on bacteria that cause an infection, is 100 percent avoidable.
The failure to keep high-touch areas like bed rails, TV remotes, and telephones clean also raises the risk of infections.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers or bleach wipes should be provided in hospitals.
The use of antibiotics should be carefully controlled and, unless absolutely necessary, an indwelling catheter should be used only temporarily and removed as soon as possible.
Also, it is recommended that the skin area where the catheter has been inserted is cleaned regularly.
Staff in hospitals should wear protective hair covers, masks, gowns, and gloves whenever and wherever it is appropriate.
It is interesting that the rate of HAIs has decreased in countries when doctors wear scrubs (instead of white coats) and when they stop wearing ties.
Many small, common-sense initiatives like these have been successful in preventing infections.
Can I sue the hospital for infections I received in the hospital?
Despite the relatively common problem of healthcare-acquired infections, few people claim damages from the hospital.
The burden of proof is high, as you must show that the infection was acquired at the healthcare establishment and that it was avoidable.
The necessity to provide complex medical assessments means that many people fail to follow up with a hospital, even if they are sure that they acquired the infection there.
The process is made much less complex with the assistance of experienced lawyers.
Contact our NYC medical malpractice lawyers today
When you or a loved one are admitted to a hospital, you have a right to feel that you are safe and not exposed to unnecessary risks.
What can you do as the victim of a hospital infection that you believe was avoidable?
One option is to seek compensation for your damages by filing a lawsuit against the hospital.
However, as you have seen, these cases can be complex. Hospitals usually have powerful legal representation.
The experienced medical malpractice lawyers at Sinel & Olesen, PLLC can help you get started with a free consultation to see whether you have a valid case.