Bill would help hospitals curb staph strain

Posted March 26, 2009, at 10:54 p.m.

The Maine State Nurses Association and others in Maine are hoping to rein in the incidence of a potentially lethal hospital-acquired infection, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

A bill pending before the Health and Human Services Committee would require hospitals to screen all high-risk patients before admitting them; to treat aggressively any identified infections; to adopt stringent policies regarding isolating patients with MRSA; to notify staff, other patients and former patients who may have had contact with MRSA-infected individuals; and to maintain records of identified cases and report them to the state.

Its resistance to methicillin and other broadly effective antibiotics is what makes MRSA so deadly. Unchecked, it can progress rapidly as a superficial skin infection, a wound infection or pneumonia. It most often is spread from patient to patient by hospital staff or by contact with contaminated equipment or supplies.

According to a recent study cited by the nursing association, Maine ranked fourth-highest in the nation for MRSA. Hospitals acknowledge the problem is serious and growing, but question whether the provisions included in the bill would be effective at reducing the incidence. Efforts already are under way to curb MRSA and other hospital-acquired infections.

Kathy Day, a registered nurse whose 83-year-old father died in January after contracting MRSA pneumonia in an area hospital, said Thursday that a number of other states have adopted aggressive policies toward reducing the incidence of MRSA in their hospitals. Her father was hospitalized for a fractured ankle, was discharged on schedule and progressing well at home, Day said, when he collapsed and had to be readmitted with the MRSA pneumonia diagnosis. He spent 20 days in the hospital and nine weeks in a nursing home before he succumbed to the infection, Day said Thursday.

“Reducing the MRSA infection would end needless suffering and death for Maine patients,” nurse Deb Bumbaugh, vice president of the Maine State Nurses Association, said in a statement prepared for a State House press conference.

Mary Mayhew of the Maine Hospital Association said Thursday that hospitals already are engaged in “an incredible statewide effort” to reduce MRSA rates, working in coalition with the Maine Quality Forum and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Mayhew said the group is being guided by the recommendations of the national CDC regarding infection control, and said there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that publicly reporting the incidence of hospital-acquired MRSA rates would help decrease the occurrence.

A public hearing on LD 1038, which is sponsored by Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday, April 7, in Room 209 of the Cross State Office Building.

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