Disease fighting medical health concept as a stethoscope in the shape of a fearless monster

One of the CDC studies involved healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). They are the most common complications occurring during hospital care. According to a CDC study, approximately one in 25 hospitalized patients have at least one HAI.

There were an estimated 722,000 HAIs in U.S hospitals in 2011. Pneumonia and surgical site infections led with 157,500 each. Others included gastrointestinal illness (123,100), urinary tract infections (93,300), primary bloodstream infections (71,900), and other types of infections (118,500). About 75,000 hospital patients with HAIs died during their hospitalizations. More than half of all HAIs occurred outside of the intensive care unit.

Healthcare-associated infections were accepted by the medical field as a hazard of hospitalization. However, it is now known that many common HAIs can be prevented. Healthcare facilities are prioritizing efforts to reduce the burden of these infections. Progress has been made in preventing specific HAIs through federally sponsored programs from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ), CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Infections caused by the bacterium Clostridium difficile (C. diff), which is a bacterial disease in the colon, have rapidly become more common in hospitals and are now responsible for more than 12 percent of all HAIs. Preventing transmission of C. diff and antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is an increasing focus of attention.

The number one factor for preventing the spread of HAIs is handwashing. Along with improved hand washing, the CDC has developed guidelines for the prevention of certain HAIs in health care facilities. Other prevention strategies include patient isolation and improved patient care area cleaning requirements. Apparently, the challenge has been making it easy for health care facilities to establish and adopt the recommended methods as standard practice.

HAIs are estimated to cost billions of dollars annually. CMS has put limitations on reimbursements for the costs of HAIs and patients with HAIs may require longer stays or re-admittance for treatment. The treatment itself also increases costs significantly. There is no doubt that health care facilities' number one priority is patient care, but we also have to remember that they are a business. A significant amount of HAIs are very costly. Facilities make their money by successfully treating patients in the most efficient time and turning the beds over to new patients.

With all of the CDC studies and guidelines utilized by health care facilities, there remains a missing piece. Construction and maintenance inevitably takes place within the facility. Although great strides have been made through OSHA training and certification, workers are not exposed to the CDC guidelines. Extra thought and care should be taken when working around individuals with weakened immune systems. One must consider the effects of moving a ceiling tile, cutting into a wall, disconnecting a pipe or even carrying tools to the job site. There needs to be a program developed that will protect construction/maintenance personnel, medical personnel, health care patients, and visiting friends and family from exposure to infectious diseases. ASSE International has done just that, developing a program that applies not only to health care facilities, but also to any job site in which one may be exposed to pathogens or other infectious diseases.

SCOTT HAMILTON is Senior Director of Competency Development Services for IAPMO Training and Education. A 25-year veteran of the trades, Hamilton joined IAPMO Training and Education after holding the position of ASSE International Executive Director and serving the prior 14 years as president of Plumbers Union Local 75 in Milwaukee, for which he also served as training director of the Educational Fund since 2004. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, Hamilton completed the United Association's Instructor Training program and has been teaching for more than 20 years.