Maryland Considers Tracking Hospital
Infections; Bill Would Require Keeping Data on
Illnesses Patients Contract While in Facilities
The Washington Post
Date: February 23, 2005
Author: David Snyder
Mark Bennett went to the hospital last February with
pneumonia and never came home. When he died, four
months after being admitted and after passing
through five hospitals, his body had been assaulted
by six separate bacterial infections, according to
his son, Michael Bennett. One forced doctors to
amputate a leg, and another was formally listed as
the 89-year-old's cause of death.
Family members believe that the hospitals where Mark
Bennett spent the last months of his life not only
did not save him from death but actually sped his
demise by failing to follow basic rules of hygiene.
"He had almost no interruption in suffering,"
Michael Bennett, of Baltimore, said of his father.
"It was pure, unadulterated hell."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, an estimated 90,000 people die each year
in the United States from infections they contract
in the hospital -- more than five times the number
of homicides each year. Some experts believe that
with the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,
such infections are on the rise. But it is
impossible to know because reporting is not required
and studies on the topic are sporadic.
That would change in Maryland under a bill heard
yesterday in a House of Delegates committee that
would require the state's 54 acute- care hospitals
to collect data on hospital-acquired infections and
publish an annual report by 2006.
Cal Pierson, president of the Maryland Hospital
Association, said that the group supports the aims
of the bill but that similar efforts are being made
to accomplish the same goals.
"There's no real need in Maryland to deviate from
the plan that's already underway," Pierson said.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Shane E. Pendergrass
(D-Howard), would force disclosure sooner than the
plans in progress -- an urgency that advocates for
such measures say is needed to force hospitals to
improve hygiene and bolster efforts to stop
"There needs to be some outside pressure for real
accountability in the health care system," said Lisa
McGiffert, a hospital- infections expert with
Consumers Union, a nonprofit consumer advocacy
group. "We're trying to get hospitals to take
seriously their own policies to reduce the spread of
More than a dozen states are considering similar
legislation this year, according to Consumers Union,
which has lobbied for such bills in several states.
Pennsylvania is the only state currently collecting
hospital-infection data; Illinois, Missouri and
Florida recently passed laws requiring data
Some hospital groups and experts on
hospital-acquired infections say that gathering
infection data is a much more complicated process
than advocates suggest and that there is no way to
guarantee that procedures would be uniform. Experts
have voiced concerns that hospitals that most
conscientiously gather data would suffer because
their reported rates would be higher.
The CDC estimates that as many as 2 million people
contract infections from hospitals each year. The
deaths that result from such infections could be
much higher -- or lower -- than the 90,000 estimate,
experts said, because data are virtually
Before he entered the hospital, Mark Bennett, a
World War II veteran and one-time actor, was "very
independent, totally with it," his son said.
He came down with viral pneumonia a year ago and was
admitted to the hospital. He soon developed an
infection that led to his leg being amputated.
Other infections, which Michael Bennett believes his
father acquired while in the hospital, attacked his
internal organs. In the end, Michael Bennett said,
his father's voice was little more than a croak, his
airway narrowed to five millimeters by an infection
attacking his trachea.
Mark Bennett died June 13. He had turned 89 two days