I-TEAM: As CSRA hospitals take coronavirus precautions, the I-Team is looking closer at health care-associated infections

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- We continue to dig deeper into what the coronavirus could mean for our area as our I-Team is working to spread facts, not fear.

Our local hospitals are already taking precautions to control the spread of coronavirus if we start seeing cases here at home.

With the Masters around the corner, the possibility of a lot of patients at once is on plenty of minds.

You come into the hospital with one problem, and while you're there, you contract something else -- possibly even worse. The CDC calls it a “health care-associated infection.”

The CDC says 1.7 million patients in the United States will acquire some type of infection while being treated for other health issues.

The I-Team found one in 17 of those patients will die from that issue. It's a risk patients have to consider for surgeries that may not be life or death.

With the area's only level one trauma center, it's an issue AU Medical Center deals with a lot.

“We are taking care of the sickest of the sick, so facilities that won't operate on someone because it's too complex or because they are going to develop complications, those patients get transferred to us,” Dr. Phillip Coule from AUMC said.

The I-Team combed through the most recent Medicare data for hospitals across the country. We looked at AU Medical Center's rates for health care-associated infections. This data includes infections spread from equipment or from patient to patient after contact with an infected person or surface.

Out of 36 different metrics, we crunched the numbers and found AUMC scored worse than the national average on 12 of the 36.

But Dr. Coule, the chief medical officer of AU Health, says those numbers are misleading.

“You can have a bullet that goes through your colon and causes an infection, but if the surgeon does not use two specific words in their dictation about that injury then it gets counted as an infection if it happens later,” Coule said.

AU points to its role as a teaching hospital, playing a role in some of the paperwork issues. But says it's working to change that.

“Some of this is we are doing a better job of documenting this appropriately and just with the change in documentation and some of the other changes that we've implemented, we've already seen a 60 percent reduction is this type of infection,” Coule said.

AU also claims the Medicare data lumps all hospitals into the same category and doesn't take into consideration that AUMC treats the sickest of the sick and severe trauma cases.

“Unfortunately, we take care of lots of complex cases and because of that sometimes those numbers don't adequately reflect that,” Dr. Coule said.

We spoke to a patient who sees things a little differently than a missing word or two when it comes to the potential for infection to spread at AU.

“I look to my left [and there] is this lady sitting there leaking bodily fluids on the floor,” the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.

Last month she says she was waiting in the crowded emergency room, for more than six hours. In her first hour there, she waited across from a very ill woman leaking some sort of bodily fluid from her leg onto the ground. She shared her concerns, and a photo with a patient advocate at AU.

“When they removed this lady from the waiting area, they kind of cleaned her up but then the nurse walked off and came back with a regular plain old white hospital towel and just wiped it up,” the woman said. “I'm like, ‘No. Where is housekeeping? Where is the bleach?’”

Was that a slip in protocol? We asked Dr. Coule.

“The expectation in that situation is that the area would be thoroughly cleaned,” Coule said. “If we become aware of situations like that, we address it immediately.”

“Even after they took this lady back I stayed out in the waiting room for at least another two possibly three hours and nobody came,” the woman said. “Housekeeping or bleach or anything to try to mop up that area or spray Lysol. There was just nothing done.”

Dr. Coule says concerns over coronavirus have led AU to a more heightened set of protocols.

“We also are being very diligent making sure we reduce exposure either by identifying cases prior to them arriving at our facility if at all possible and bringing them in by separate means if at all possible,” Coule said.

They also pointed out, with regards to preparing for coronavirus, AUMC has technologies like the Tru-D robot, which uses UV-C light system to disinfect operating and patient rooms.

Augusta University says they fully expect when the latest data comes out, their infection rates should appear much, much lower, based on changes to their data recording.

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