NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 15, 2008

With hospital infections sickening millions every year, they will cause the next wave of class-action lawsuits, bigger than the litigation over asbestos, predicts Betsy McCaughey, chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. 

Hospitals are already starting to feel the side effects of infections, says McCaughey:

  • In 2004, Tenet Healthcare Corporation agreed to pay $31 million to settle 106 lawsuits by patients who contracted infections after heart surgery at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center in Florida.
  • Since then, numerous lawsuits have been filed against hospitals in Florida, Kentucky and elsewhere.
  • However, hospitals being sued are saying that their infection rates are within national norms.

But for most infections, the only acceptable rate is zero, says McCoughey.

Beginning October 2008, Medicare will stop reimbursing hospitals for treatment of "never events" -- certain device-related bloodstream infections, urinary tract infections and surgical infections after orthopedic and heart surgery.  The evidence justifying Medicare's new policy is compelling, adds McCaughey.

  • Central line bloodstream infections are preventable. Rigorous hygiene, including clean hands, sterile drapes and careful cleaning of the insertion site with chlorhexidine soap, can keep bacteria away from the tube.
  • Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City reports that it has not had a central line bloodstream infection in the cardiac intensive care unit in over 1,000 days and many other hospitals have reached the goal of zero central line bloodstream infections.
  • But a recent survey found that 87 percent of hospitals fail to consistently practice infection prevention measures.

We have the knowledge to prevent infections, what has been lacking is the will, concludes McCaughey.  Lawsuits are not the best way to improve patient care, but coupled with incentives from Medicare and insurers, the fight against complacency about hospital hygiene will be successful.

Source: Betsy McCaughey, "Hospital Infections: Preventable and Unacceptable," Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2008.

For text:


Browse more articles on Health Issues