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Hilton Head Hospital reins in bloodstream infections

Hilton Head Hospital intensive care unit nurse Michelle Cox holds a central line on Thursday. "This is really a pretty complicated piece of machinery," she said. The end of the device, at right, runs directly to a patient's heart and can be used to monitor heart functions as well as deliver medication. New infection-prevention steps used when inserting the catheters have eliminated bloodstream infections at the hospital in the past year.
Hilton Head Hospital intensive care unit nurse Michelle Cox holds a central line on Thursday. "This is really a pretty complicated piece of machinery," she said. The end of the device, at right, runs directly to a patient's heart and can be used to monitor heart functions as well as deliver medication. New infection-prevention steps used when inserting the catheters have eliminated bloodstream infections at the hospital in the past year. Jay Karr

Hilton Head Hospital has received an award from the S.C. Hospital Association for going more than a year without an intensive-care patient contracting a bloodstream infection, according to the hospital.

A year ago, the hospital's intensive care unit was flagged in a Consumer Reports article that detailed occurrences in 2009 of bloodstream infections stemming from "central lines" -- the intravenous catheters that deliver medication, nutrition and fluids to intensive care patients.

The hospital has not had a patient contract a bloodstream infection in its intensive care unit in nearly two years, according Lori Ross, the hospital's vice president of clinical quality improvement.

"The success can be attributed to our identifying an issue, being obsessive about measuring them, being transparent about reporting and discussing them, and going out to find a solution," said Mark O'Neil Jr., the hospital's president and chief executive officer.

Four patients contracted the infections at the hospital in early 2009, Ross said. That was down from five patients in 2008 and five in 2007, she said.

Beaufort Memorial Hospital had no occurrences of central line bloodstream infections in 2009 or 2010, Courtney McDermott, a hospital spokeswoman, said.

The Consumer Reports study included 10 states and examined the most recent data available from 31 hospitals in South Carolina. Hilton Head Hospital had the highest infection rate of any hospital in the state involved in the study, according to the article. However, the study included only hospitals that submitted data, and not all hospitals in South Carolina did.

Infection rates at Hilton Head Hospital began to drop in mid-2009, after the medical staff worked with Johns Hopkins Hospital to develop new procedures. Intensive care nurses began using infection-prevention methods for inserting catheters, and the hospital purchased new products to help kill bacteria where the line is inserted into the body.

The John Hopkins' "STOP BSI" project, which is replicated at hospitals nationwide, provides recommendations and a framework for patient safety, according to the program's website.

The only cost to the hospital was paying for staff to attend meetings, Ross said.

About 200,000 central-line bloodstream infections occur in U.S. hospitals each year, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control website. O'Neil said the hospital staff will continue its vigilance in every department.

"In our ICU and other areas, we have very specific checklists for physicians, nurses, technicians and other workers," he said. "Every single patient is important to us, and by taking this dedicated approach, we have continuously improved the professional culture for preventing infections."

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