While most people think of hospitals as the place to go to get the medical care you need for a serious or life-threatening ailment, many doctors and healthcare professionals know that hospitals are also great places for acquiring an infection. Patients are surrounded by sick people, germs, and some serious pathogens. Most patients are in the hospital precisely because they are sick and are having a hard time fighting off an illness of their own.
Together, the dangers of hospitals and the susceptibility of patients make it all too likely for you to get infected by bacteria during a hospital stay.
Hospitals know these risks and have legal obligations to uphold to make sure people are kept safe. When they fail to uphold these responsibilities in Philadelphia and you get sick, the personal injury and medical malpractice lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can help by bringing the legal guidance you need to recover the compensation you deserve.
Infections Acquired in Hospitals
An infection is an invasion of foreign bacteria that enters your body. In some cases, infections can be harmless, if the bacteria is innocuous or in such a small dose that your body's immune system can easily handle it. In other cases, though, an infection can be life-threatening or can cause medical complications that require extensive care.
Precisely because hospitals are places that are full of sick people and the bacteria that is making them sick, getting an infection during a hospital stay is a significant risk. You are far more likely to get an infection at a hospital than you are at home.
Some infections are more commonly acquired in hospitals than others. Some of the most common bacteria and infections you can get in a hospital include:
- Yeast infections
- Ventilator-associated pneumonia
- Legionnaires' Disease
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- Urinary tract infections (UTI)
- Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus
- Clostridioides difficile (C. diff)
- E. coli
- Postpartum infections like puerperal fever
- Stenotrophomonas maltophilia
- Acinetobacter baumannii
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSRA)
These tend to fall in certain categories of infections, some of which are more common than others:
- Infections of the urinary tract
- Surgical site infections
- Infections of the lungs, most commonly pneumonia
- Bloodstream infections
How You Can Get an Infection During a Hospital Visit
Whenever you go to the hospital, there is a chance that you get infected with bacteria that you encounter there. However, there are some factors that drastically increase the risks of acquiring an infection in a hospital. Some of those factors have to do with your hospital visit, others focus on your medical status, while others are out of your control and have to do with how the hospital treats its patients.
Details of Your Hospital Stay Matter
Among the most important risk factors for a hospital acquired infection are those that focus on your hospital stay. Factors that can influence your risk of developing a hospital acquired infection include:
- The length of your hospital visit
- Whether you had an IV or an indwelling catheter
- Whether you had an invasive surgery during your stay
Your Health and Immune System Plays a Part
Some of the factors that can change your risks of getting an infection in a hospital have to do with you, as a patient. Your risks of acquiring an infection in a hospital rise if:
- You are over the age of 55
- You are under the age of 6
- Your immune system is already compromised by the problem that brought you to the hospital in the first place
The Role of Hospital Policies
The hospital you stay at can also impact whether you get an infection while there. Certain hospital policies can raise or lower your risks, including policies that affect:
- The use of antibiotics – overuse of antibiotics in a hospital can strengthen bacteria in it
- How often doctors, nurses, and other staff wash their hands, and how they wash them
- When catheters are used, cleaned, and how quickly they are removed when they are not in use
- How often medical or surgical equipment is cleaned
- The age and cleanliness of hospital facilities, including the water system and heating vents
Hospital Acquired Infections: Statistics
Unfortunately, hospital acquired infections are still a serious problem in the U.S. and in Philadelphia.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 1 in 31 hospital patients develop an infection during their stay. In 2015, approximately 687,000 infections developed in patients who were in acute care centers in the U.S., leading to 72,000 deaths.
A Hospital's Duty of Care to Its Patients in Philadelphia
Hospitals in Philadelphia have a legal duty of care to their patients. They have to provide reasonable medical care and take reasonable precautions to keep patients healthy and safe while they are in the hospital.
When it comes to hospital acquired infections, this means that hospitals cannot be negligent in their decisions and conduct to prevent an infection.
That negligence can take the form of an action or a non-action. In the hospital acquired infection context, it most often takes the form of a non-action, or omission that leads to the spread of bacteria that then causes your sickness.
- A hospital fails to clean the HVAC system for over a decade, leading to a buildup of mold and bacteria that then spreads throughout the hospital when the heat is turned on.
- Without a hospital policy for how long indwelling catheters can remain in a patient, doctors and nurses remove them at their own convenience rather than the patient's safety.
- A hospital does not monitor when patients get infections, preventing the facility from correcting the cause of the problem and protecting future patients.
What You Can Do If You Were Infected During a Hospital Stay
If you go to the hospital and become one of the unlucky people to develop a new infection while you are there, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses and your experiences. To recover that compensation, though, you will have to prove that the hospital was negligent and that it breached its duty of care towards you by putting you in harm's way.
Proving this is not always easy. The source of an infection is often notoriously difficult to pin down with a reasonable degree of certainty. It often takes the expert testimony of a doctor or healthcare professional to make a persuasive case that the hospital was responsible. Meanwhile, the hospital will be doing all that it can to obfuscate the problem and try to pin blame on anything else it can.
However, victims of hospital acquired infections do have one important fact on their side: they were not infected when they came into the hospital but now they are. When they never left the hospital, and when the hospital has complete control over what happens inside the building, the idea that the hospital is somehow responsible is a strong one.
This fact can sometimes be enough to shift the burden of persuasion to the hospital. It can force them to show that the hospital does have policies in place regarding infections and cleanliness and that its staff did abide by those policies during your stay in the facility. In cases where those policies are outdated or are based on faulty evidence or are no longer the best practice in a healthcare facility, your claims for compensation can get even stronger.
How the hospital reacts to your infection can also create or exacerbate your case. If they fail to detect a hospital acquired infection – something that is not rare, considering the fact that hospitals do not want to admit that you were infected while in the hospital – the infection can spread and cause further medical complications that make you even sicker. Where those additional medical complications are all the result of the hospital's initial negligence in not preventing the infection, the hospital can be liable for all of the costs of those problems as well.
Unfortunately, these cases often involve patients who become severely ill or who die from the infection that got in the hospital. While the compensation that they can recover in a lawsuit – or the damages their family can recover in a wrongful death lawsuit – is much higher, the devastation is also much more severe.
Personal Injury Lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian in Philadelphia
Hospitals are in control of what happens within their walls. If you are there to get healed or to recover from a medical problem, but you get infected with a serious contamination or bacteria, the hospital may be to blame for your condition.
Filing a personal injury lawsuit against the hospital does not just demand compensation for your losses and medical bills; it also seeks to hold hospitals accountable for their conduct and their reckless behavior that has put you and other patients at risk. The personal injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian in Philadelphia can help you invoke your rights to compensation and fight for your interests in court. Contact them online to get started.