HHS releases $9 million to help fight healthcare-acquired infections

By Bernie Monegain
09:44 AM

To reduce healthcare-acquired infections in surgical centers, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has made up to $9 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act available to state survey agencies in 43 states.

HAIs are acquired by patients in a healthcare setting such as a hospital or outpatient clinic. While hand-washing is considered the first and most effective way to avoid them, information technology has also been put to work as a way to control HAIs by monitoring, collecting data, setting benchmarks and sharing information, which leads to establishing best practices.

The ARRA funds will pay for surveying 1,300 ambulatory surgical centers across the nation over the next 12 months. The 1,300 centers, called ASCs, represent one-third of the more than 3,800 non-accredited surgery centers across the country.

State surveyors will use a new survey process developed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that includes an infection control tool developed in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Because of the recovery act, millions of patients who go to stand-alone surgical centers will have greater assurance that they won't come home with a new infection," Sebelius said. "Residents in these 43 states will continue to see the benefits from the recovery act not only by addressing healthcare associated infections, but by putting people to work to solve an important issue and improve the quality of life for Americans."

"Healthcare-Associated Infections kill nearly 100,000 people and add an extra $30 billion in healthcare costs every year, but with a little bit of knowledge, and some extra effort, much of that can be prevented," said Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who was a lead author of ARRA and has been an outspoken advocate for efforts to reduce HAIs. "I'm glad to see these funds going to help put people to work combating this tragedy around the country."

Healthcare services around the nation are being shifted to outpatient settings such as ambulatory care facilities, long-term care facilities and freestanding specialty care sites. The number of ASCs participating in Medicare grew from about 3,600 in 2002 to 5,200 in early 2009, a 44 percent increase.

ASCs account for more than 43 percent of all same-day (ambulatory) surgeries, amounting to about 15 million procedures every year. Typical surgical procedures conducted in ASCs include endoscopies and colonoscopies, orthopedic procedures, plastic/reconstructive surgeries and eye, foot and ear/nose/throat surgeries.

HAI outbreaks in outpatient settings continue to occur, according to the CDC. Several ASC-related communicable disease outbreaks have been attributed to failure to employ basic infection control practices, leading CMS officials to seek additional oversight.

In the last fiscal year, 12 states volunteered to get a head start on this nationwide effort to reduce HAIs in stand-alone or same-day surgical centers by beginning to survey ASCs, with nearly $1 million in funding provided through ARRA. In addition, the CDC has also made $40 million available to state public health departments to create or expand state-based HAI prevention and surveillance efforts and strengthen the public health workforce trained to prevent HAIs.