VA Infection Control

Hospitals everywhere are coming to grips with the problem of infections people get while they're in the hospital, and they're doing everything they can to prevent infections. As Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports, the Veterans Administration is leading the way in that effort.

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A hospital is the last place you would expect to come down with an infection, but it's happening in hospitals across the country. People have died of infections they got in the hospital, and the problem is so serious the government got involved through the Centers for Disease Control. Infection Control Practitioner Patricia Byers of the Houston VA Medical Center says the solution sounds simple: keep the hospital clean and sanitary, but that's not as easy as you would expect.

"Hospitals have protocols for cleaning. Not all hospitals do it effectively. And so when we say we expect a hospital to be clean, yes we do, and we have that same expectation of our hospital. We work with our house keepers to develop ways to make that more successful."

Byers says the VA is working to create a culture that makes cleanliness and sanitation the number one goal of every employee, not just house-keepers.

"Absolutely and what we're doing here today is we're learning how to change our hospital culture, so that we can do these things with our own people with the resources we have and be able to do them better."

One particular infection is attracting a lot of attention because it's not just happening in hospitals. It's also turning up out in the community. It's called Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA for short. It's a nasty infection caused by bacteria commonly found on the skin and in the nostrils of healthy people, it's resistant to common anti-biotics and it puts a hundred thousand otherwise healthy people in hospitals every year. Byers says it's costing the VA hundreds of millions of dollars, which is why eliminating this infection is a major goal for the VA.

"Our goal is to get to zero with MRSA at our Houston VA Medical Center. It's a very important patient safety issue. We don't want any of our patients to have an adverse event when they come to our hospital. Our goal is to bring them in, take care of their problem and get them home as soon as possible."

Byers says infection control protocols at the Houston VA Medical Center appear to be working, because the rate of infections has gone down since the protocols were instituted. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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