Healthcare-Associated Infections: Still a Real Threat to Patient Safety

Written by Atlee Hall

A recent incident at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA involving the death of three preemies due to a waterborne germ is a reminder that healthcare associated infections are a real threat. Every day, patients who are hospitalized acquire infections while being treated for something else. The sad truth is that healthcare procedures leave patients vulnerable to germs that cause these infections. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on any given day, about 1 in 31 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection. Common healthcare-associated infections include central line-associated bloodstream infections, surgical site infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, and ventilator-associated pneumonia. Sadly, these infections result in tens of thousands of deaths each year and are, for the most part, completely preventable.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recognizes that healthcare-associated infections are a very real threat to patient safety and has made the prevention and reduction of healthcare-associated infections one of its top priorities. In July 2008, the HHS Steering Committee for the Prevention of Healthcare-Associated Infections was established. The Steering Committee worked with scientists and program officials to develop the HHS Action Plan to Prevent Healthcare-Associated Infections. If you would like to read more about the plan and the progress made so far, additional information and resources can be found on the CDC’s website at

Despite the government’s efforts to try to prevent and control these types of infections, the reality is that they are still a significant threat to patient safety across the country. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is no exception. Just this week, Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA, is scrambling to identify the source of a waterborne bacteria which has been infecting premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit at their facility. Three premature infants have died so far with a total of eight that appear to have been infected. As a precaution, the hospital is transferring premature babies to other hospitals and diverting other expected premature deliveries elsewhere while they try to figure out where the organism is coming from. Sources say that it could take weeks to determine how the infections occurred, however, doctors said they first became aware of an unusual infection in early August.

Our team at Atlee Hall is no stranger to patients who have unfortunately acquired healthcare-associated infections. In 2015, we became aware of claims involving Non-Tuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM), “M. Chimaera,” after three local hospitals notified patients who underwent an open surgery that they might be exposed to the mycobacteria where a Sorin Stockert 3T Heater-Cooler Unit was used. The 3T Heater-Cooler Unit was used during surgeries to regulate the patient’s temperature. However, the device contains water tanks which are vulnerable to harboring the mycobacteria. M. Chimaera can cause life-threatening infections which can take months or even years to present symptoms in a patient. Because these infections can be extremely difficult to detect and treat, the mortality rate is 50%. Since first becoming involved with these cases, our team has worked tirelessly to help patients who have confirmed m. Chimaera infections fight for justice.