Hospitals working to wipe out infections

Countless lives saved. Long hospital stays avoided. More than a million dollars in health care costs avoided. That’s the lasting impact of South Carolina hospitals’ efforts to eliminate blood stream infections.

Each year approximately 80,000 US patients will get an infection from a central line. Up to 31,000 of them will die from that infection. 

A central line is a long tube inserted into a patient’s vein to provide fluids and medications. Infections can occur if the tube is not cleaned for a long enough time or not placed in a precise way.

For decades, these infections were thought to be an unfortunate but unavoidable part of health care. But in our state, providers knew they could do better.

In 2009, 21 South Carolina hospitals joined with national health care leader Johns Hopkins University to prevent these potentially deadly infections. The hospitals examined their own past cases. They received proven clinical education, tools, resources, and just as important – support from one another as they worked toward a common purpose. 

Those 21 hospitals saw a 69 percent improvement rate in central line-associated blood stream infections over a two-year period, greatly surpassing the national improvement rate of 40 percent. By avoiding those infections instead of treating them once they occurred, the hospitals reported a $1.3 million cost savings.

Today, South Carolina hospitals report a blood stream infection rate 43 percent lower than the national average. And 35 of our hospitals have maintained a rate of zero blood stream infections for up to 18 straight months.

The ultimate goal of our hospitals is zero harm. That’s why SCHA created the Certified Zero Harm Awards Program in 2013 to publicly recognize South Carolina hospitals’ excellent progress in making care safer, specifically the elimination of bloodstream and post-surgery infections. These infections are very costly for hospitals, and can be frightening or even fatal for patients. The response to the program has been overwhelming – in the first year alone 30 member hospitals earned 70 separate awards in three different categories.