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Environmental Staff Cuts Expose HAI Risk

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, August 15, 2011

Hospital-acquired infections are back in the news of late, not that they ever really go away.

Recently, the federal government told Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas to come up with a correction plan for a litany of safety issues that include infection control. If the feds aren't happy with the action plan, Parkland's Medicare payments could be in jeopardy.

Also, Infection Control Today reports on Chicago hospitals' battle with an outbreak of the bacterium Clostridium difficile. According to ICT, an investigation suggests that patients transferred from one hospital to another have helped to spread a strain of the bacterium.

Daily media reports remind us that the threat of HAI demands constant diligence, even while another wave of layoffs at hospitals across the nation. This time, Medicaid is identified as the primary culprit, although other issues like lower admissions, reductions in Medicare reimbursements, and a general uncertainty about the nation's economic future, have been cited.

Whatever the reasons for the layoffs, hospital executives making the difficult cuts stress that patient care will not be compromised. They assure the public that as best they could they preserved nurses and other critical bedside staff. If the cuts are coming from environmental services – maids, janitors, and other cleaning staff – it seems only logical that hospitals are exposing themselves to a greater risk of HAI.

"It is a reason for concern. If a hospital decides to make those cuts in environmental services staff that will make it much more challenging to keep rooms clean," says Ann Marie Pettis, RN, BSN, director of Infection Prevention for the University of Rochester Medical Center, and a senior advisor with the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

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