Rising Frequency of Infections Rates in Nursing Homes

February 18, 2013

1238929_untitled.jpgNursing home neglect lawyers at Pintas & Mullins highlight a new study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, which found an exceedingly high rate of bacterial infections in nursing homes in Southern California.

Specifically, researchers noticed high incidences of one particular bacterial strain: the community-assisted methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA). This type of Staph infection is resistant to standard antibiotics, and is extremely dangerous even in young, healthy people with strong immune systems. The strain is often found in hospitals and other healthcare settings where invasive procedures take place, although this new community-based strain is increasingly affecting people outside of hospital settings.

UC-Irvine researchers examined 22 Southern California nursing homes to determine the levels of environmental contamination and cleaning quality. They cultured both residents and community rooms for the CA-MRSA virus, and administered surveys to facility residents and employees on infection control and cleaning methods. The results are troubling: 16% of all objects inspected were CA-MRSA positive, and 25% of residents tested positive for CA-MRSA. In total, 20 out of the 22 nursing homes tested positive for CA-MRSA.

Environmental contamination, cleaning quality, and infection control processes varied significantly among the facilities. As expected, the prevalence of CA-MRSA was substantially higher in nursing homes with less-frequent common room cleaning and less time spent cleaning per room. This suggests that the simple process of implementing infection control practices will significantly reduce the burden and contamination of CA-MRSA and other infections in residents.

Interestingly, the study found that CA-MRSA was more prevalent in facilities that had more residents under the age of 65. This is probably due to the fact that younger residents are more mobile, and apt to more contact with other residents and community areas, which can increase the bacterial exposure risk.

Infections are a prominent and widespread problem in American nursing homes, and any recurrent or particularly serious incidents of infection may indicate senior neglect. Because of the overriding reach for profits, many facilities do not adequately train their employees in infection control and prevention. Understaffing often leads to lack of supervision and oversight, and residents with serious infections may go unnoticed and untreated for a dangerous amount of time, contributing to increased morbidity and mortality. This is a form of nursing home neglect, and should not be overlooked or unreported.

Residents with underlying chronic diseases or with intravenous, urinary, or enteral feeding tubes are most at risk for CA-MRSA and other infections. Adequate nursing homes will know this, and make sure at-risk residents are frequently checked and monitored for any signs of infection. Transferring between hospitals and nursing homes is also a major risk factor, and studies have shown that most residents acquire an MRSA infection from this two-way flow. Indirect transfer of the virus from the hand of nursing home staff is the major mode of transmission within a nursing home. This occurs when staff fail to properly wash hands or wear protective gear when administering care or cleaning.

MRSA infections are notoriously difficult and expensive to treat, and can lead to more serious infections such as pneumonia, blood-stream infections, bone and joint infections, and skin and soft tissue infections, which are all associated with high fatality rates in the elderly.

Nursing homes should provide appropriate immunizations to both residents and staff to prevent infection outbreaks, and routine surveillance of infections is critical. Any failure to do so that then results in serious injury or infection may be grounds for a nursing home negligence lawsuit. Elder abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins have decades of experience advocating on behalf of nursing home residents and their families. If you or someone you love was recently or is consistently hospitalized for infections, you may be entitled to compensation through a nursing home negligence lawsuit.