NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 29, 2007

Hospitals in the United States should be held to the same sanitary standards that our restaurants are held, says Betsy McCaughey, former lieutenant governor of New York, and founder and chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths.

The consequences of inadequate hygiene are far deadlier in hospitals than in restaurants, says McCaughey:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 2,500 people die each year after picking up a food-borne illness in a restaurant or prepared food store.
  • Forty times that number -- 100,000 people -- die each year, according to the CDC, from infections contracted in health-care facilities.

According to data recently published by the Journal of the American Medical Association:

  • Infections from just one type of bacteria -- methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) -- kill about twice as many people in the United States as previously thought.
  • The finding is based on lab tests, not on what hospitals report; if the same methodology were used to quantify deaths from all hospital infections, the death toll would likely be much larger than 100,000.

These infections are caused largely by unclean hands, inadequately cleaned equipment and contaminated clothing that allow bacteria to spread from patient to patient, says McCaughey.  In a study released in April, Boston University researchers examining 49 operating rooms at four New England hospitals found that more than half the objects that should have been disinfected were overlooked by cleaners.

The organization that accredits most hospitals, the Joint Commission, usually visits a hospital every three years, says McCaughey.  The commission emphasizes hand hygiene, but that's not enough.  As long as hospitals are inadequately cleaned, doctors' and nurses' hands will become recontaminated seconds after they are washed, whenever they touch a bacteria-laden surface.

Source: Betsy McCaughey, "Our Unsanitary Hospitals," Wall Street Journal, November 29, 2007.


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