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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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MWH gets good grade in federal government’s new infection report

Five patients suffered central line infections in local hospitals during the first nine months of last year.

Mary Washington Hospital has scored better than the state and national averages in preventing central line infections in the most seriously ill of its patients.

New data published by the federal government describe the Fredericksburg hospital as “better than the national benchmark” for central line-associated blood stream infections in ICU patients.

The data covered the first quarter of 2011. The Department of Health and Human Services added the information to its Hospital Compare website last week. It plans to update the information quarterly.

Mary Washington’s “standardized infection rate” was .28, according to the federal website. This compares to .6 for all hospitals in Virginia and 1.0 for all hospitals in the nation. Mary Washington’s score of less than 1 means that it had fewer central line infections than hospitals of similar type and size.

“Lower numbers are better,” according to the federal website. “A score of zero is best.”

Data for Stafford Hospital and the Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center were not published on the federal website since the two hospitals did not have enough ICU cases.

However, the Virginia Department of Health is now publishing a central line-associated bloodstream infection report that included Stafford Hospital and Spotsylvania Regional, in addition to Mary Washington.

For the first nine months of 2011, five adult patients at the three hospitals acquired central line infections in the ICUs, according to the state report.

The breakdown was:

Mary Washington Hospital: 2 infections, 4,032 central line days.

Spotsylvania Regional: 1 infection, 416 central line days.

Stafford Hospital: 2 infections, 406 central line days.

A central line is a narrow tube inserted near the patient’s heart or into a large vein or artery. It is usually used to give fluids or medications. When not put in correctly or kept clean, central lines can become an easy way for germs to enter the body and cause serious infections. These infections can be deadly and are mostly preventable with standard infection-control steps.

Central line days are the number of days central lines are in place for patients in the ICU. Each patient with one or more central line is counted as one central line day.

The CDC estimated that 18,000 patients developed central line infections in the nation’s ICUs in 2009.  Of those patients who develop bloodstream infections in the hospital, up to one in four die, according to Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Report.

Consumers Union has worked with other groups to advocate for hospital infection reporting laws and the disclosure of infection data.

“What consumers should be looking at is how close the hospital is to zero. Mary Washington is definitely on the right path,” said Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project, in a phone interview.

McGiffert said many hospitals in the nation had no central line infections during the reporting period.

“It’s totally doable,” she said. “Many hospitals in the country have reached zero, and they’ve been able to sustain it over a number of years.”

(The new central line data can be found here on the federal government’s Hospital Compare website. After selecting a hospital, select the “patient safety measures” tab. The Virginia Department of Health data can be found here.)