Staph meeting

Community members voice concerns about infections at Enloe

GERMS OF ENDEARMENT <br>Members of a local group of former Enloe patients who are concerned over infection rates gather at the hospital’s entrance. Left to right, Erlene Gumbinger, C.J. Meyer, Ralph Gumbinger, Elissa Crane, Patricia Lindsey, Elaine Locke and Ann-Marie Robinson.

Members of a local group of former Enloe patients who are concerned over infection rates gather at the hospital’s entrance. Left to right, Erlene Gumbinger, C.J. Meyer, Ralph Gumbinger, Elissa Crane, Patricia Lindsey, Elaine Locke and Ann-Marie Robinson.

Photo By Tom Angel

Infection detection:
Staphylococcus aureus (staph infection, for short) is a pathogenic bacterium that can live on the skin without causing trouble; however, when it gets into a cut, it can lead to toxic-shock syndrome or blood infections. Common minor problems are follicle infections, boils and abscesses. Severe cases usually occur in people with weakened immune systems. Health-care-acquired infections (including staph) kill as many as 90,000 people in the United States every year.

Hospitals may no longer be the safe havens they used to be, say members of a group in Chico with first-hand experience with the problem.

On Saturday, July 23, 25-30 Chico residents gathered at the Chico Branch Library to discuss their concerns about infection rates and general patient care at Enloe Medical Center.

“We’re not after money; we just want [Enloe] to change,” said Elaine Locke, explaining the group’s meeting.

Locke said that she was admitted for leg surgery and should have been in the hospital for only a week but wound up staying for five months after contracting a multi-resistant staph infection during surgery that led to weeks of chemotherapy and two years of blood problems.

After group organizers Locke and Ann Robinson sent a letter to local media outlets, several people telephoned them wanting to exchange information and create strength for the cause in numbers. Currently, there are about 50 people concerned about the service at Enloe.

Most people’s stories, like Locke’s, consist of going to the hospital for an unrelated procedure and having to spend far more time in the hospital after contracting an infection.

The problem doesn’t lie just with Enloe, however. “Infection rates are a problem with the industry,” said Christina Chavira, a communications specialist at Enloe.

While this may be the case, California law does not yet require hospitals to publicly release those rates, making it difficult to know where Enloe stands in comparison to other hospitals. Rates are gathered for federal information, however, and recently Health Grades, an outside company that gathers information from every hospital in the country, excluding VA and military, awarded Enloe the 2005 Distinguished Hospital Award for Patient Safety for the second year in a row.

The specifics indicate that two patients contract an infection for every 1,000 admitted to Enloe. Health Grades takes its information from independent private and public sources, and the results are founded only on Medicare patients, reported Kristin Reed, a company representative.

This information doesn’t seem to matter to the concerned group. “If Enloe is in the top 3 percent [in the nation], then we’re in a lot of trouble,” said Locke.

While every hospital is bound to have hospital-acquired infections, the problem that the Chico group has with Enloe is based mostly on sanitation practices. Members said that they had witnessed hospital staff being careless about sanitation.

Patricia Lindsey said her mother was admitted to Enloe in March for a bone fracture in her leg and died in early May as a result of receiving “inadequate care.” A lengthy complaint letter filed by Lindsey and her father, James, details medication mix-ups, rough handling and lack of concern for her mother’s requests for wound care and general comfort. Lindsey attributes this in part to a “'who’s on first?’ hospital system,” saying. “there’s not really anyone in charge.” She said about the group’s goal, “We hope to make changes, not money, so that other people don’t have to suffer.”

Members of the group believe their complaints are not being heeded, that every time a person complains about contracting an infection from the hospital, he or she is denied and the blame is placed on the patient. “Enloe is denying responsibility,” said Lindsey.

Ann Prater, Enloe’s public relations director, responded, “I hope that’s not true, because we take concerns very seriously.” She also said that any complaint or compliment the hospital receives is routed to specific departments, and for complaints steps are then taken to overcome them. “When we find problems, we act on them,” Prater said. “Every single infection that we note is investigated.”

Robinson, who picked up an especially vicious infection (clostridium difficile) after going to Enloe for a neck gland infection, said that staph infections are prominent in hospitals the world over. “Other regions in the world are acknowledging their problems, but in our country, especially locally, they don’t acknowledge [their problem], which only exacerbates it,” she said. “By denying it, they’re never going to solve the problem.”

Her suggested solutions include simple sanitation improvements and testing patients for possible carried infections before having procedures done.

Enloe officials believe, however, that they have taken all the necessary precautions when dealing with patients. Prater said that the hospital relies on surveillance of staff and that when an employee is found not to be taking proper care of sanitation, he or she is released. This is in addition to a strong hand-washing campaign, nurse meetings and mandatory annual health stream tests for all employees. “Nothing is as important to us as the quality of health care,” she said.

From the group’s perspective, though, Enloe has not done all it should be doing. Group members are currently writing letters to the California Department of Health in hopes that the state will get involved and require improved conditions from the hospital. And in the future they would like to circulate a petition to require California hospitals to report publicly their infection rates.

For the time being, Prater considers the recent community concerns “an opportunity for communication.”