Congressional Committee Chair Calls for Action against Hospital Infections

Article excerpt

The Department of Health & Human Services doesn't appear to be using its leverage to reduce healthcare-associated infections, and HHS leadership is needed to influence hospitals to tackle the problem, a Government Accountability Office director told a recent Congressional hearing. In the April hearing, Congressman Henry Waxman (D, Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, committed his committee to moving on the issue if HHS does not.

Waxman cited statistics that, with 100,000 deaths per year, healthcare-associated infections are the equivalent of the sixth leading cause of death, something he said is particularly disturbing because many infections are preventable with simple, inexpensive measures.

A GAO report done for the committee said HHS has not adequately prioritized the 1,200 practices in 13 guidelines on hospital infections from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. GAO recommended that prioritization be done to aid decisions including which practices should be part of the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services' conditions of participation for hospitals. GAO noted that only a few of the guidelines are required by CMS or by accrediting organizations' standards. GAO asserted that those organizations should not be expected to require more of the recommended practices until they are prioritized. CDC has sorted the practices according to the strength of the evidence, but other factors to be considered might include costs or organizational obstacles, it said.

Among the CDC guidelines are surgical site infection prevention (including antisepsis), influenza vaccination for healthcare personnel, smallpox vaccine use in a pre-event vaccination program, prevention of healthcare-associated pneumonia, and management of drug-resistant organisms.

Testifying at the hearing, GAO's healthcare director Cynthia Bascetta said, "Our belief is that HHS could be doing a much better job bringing to bear" the expertise from CDC, CMS, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in order to influence hospitals to take the needed measures. …