Each year in the U.S., healthcare-acquired infections such as MRSA, Staph and Coronavirus affect nearly two million people, killing more people annually than breast cancer, prostate cancer and automobile accidents combined. Two Miami-based facilities — the West Gables Health Care Center and Bay Oaks — have participated in a pilot program with my company, NOVAERUS, to develop and implement infection control programs that combine staff expertise, best practices and technology, to prevent — not just treat — infections. The results are very promising, and I predict that by this time next year, both will achieve national recognition as models all healthcare facilities can follow.
One patient out of every 20 admitted to hospital contracts a nosocomial infection, (an infection the patient did not have when they entered the facility), with 1.8 million people per year acquiring an infection during their hospital stays. More than 99,000 Americans die annually — that’s 270 deaths every day. The elderly and immunocompromised patients are particularly at risk.
While the threats have grown more sophisticated, the methods of controlling and preventing these life-threatening infections have not. The last true revolution in infection control occurred in 1867 when British surgeon Joseph Lister began using carbolic acid as an antiseptic, significantly reducing mortality rates from infection by 30 percent within a decade.
Current HAI prevention practices include:
• Isolating infected patients.
• Requiring staff to wash their hands after each patient examination.
• Wearing protective gowns, masks, gloves and other equipment.
• Cleaning rooms with harsh chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide.
Eliminating airborne pathogens is a critical component of any infection control program. Traditional practices may prevent infection via direct contact with humans or surfaces, but not via what the CDC defines as “aerial dissemination.”
Marco Carrasco and Kathryn Kassner, the administrators at West Gables and Bay Oaks respectively, understand that even the strongest antibiotic is a reactive measure. If someone contracts one of these drug-resistant infections, it can already be too late to treat them effectively.
The West Gables Health Care Center is a 120-bed skilled nursing facility that provides the highest levels of post-acute medical care to patients who have completed their hospital stays but are not well enough to return home. The median age of patients is 86, and the average short-term stay is 32 days.
The Bay Oaks assisted-living facility next to Biscayne Bay is a social model facility, and does not have in-residence seniors with serious medical conditions, disabilities or dementia that prohibits them from performing the basics for themselves. The typical resident is an 84-year-old female, with the eldest being 102 years old. When residents do become ill and have to be hospitalized, they return in a weakened state and are more susceptible to infections and respiratory issues, particularly if recovering from major surgery.
West Gables Health Care Center and Bay Oaks are two of the first long-term care facilities in the entire country to implement the infection control programs that combine the NOVAERUS plasma technology with their staffs’ proven expertise and traditional best practices. The NOVAERUS technology passes air through a disruptive plasma field that eradicates all airborne viruses and can reduce microbial surface counts by up to 90 percent.
As a result of incorporating an active approach to controlling the airborne route of transmission, both have all but eliminated incidents of respiratory distress among residents and staff.
Carrasco reports that during the first two months of 2013, his facility had 115 total admissions with only three patients that were re-hospitalized for pneumonia. This represents a significant reduction from both the previous year, and the national average (18.3 percent).
Kassner reports Bay Oaks has not had one resident visit a physician due to a respiratory issue since January, and residents and staff have simply never been healthier.
Chances are that you or a loved one will spend time in a hospital, rehab center or long-term care facility this year, and the threat of infection should be top-of-mind. Healthcare facilities nationwide can look to Miami, with West Gables Health Care Center and Bay Oaks as models to follow, when developing and implementing infection control programs to turn the tide against superbugs.
Kevin Maughan is CEO of NOVAERUS, the developer of airborne infection control technology for healthcare facilities that destroys airborne pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and mold spores. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.