September 16, 2008

Health Officials Expect to Publicize Infection Data in Mid-2009

By Margot Sanger-Katz

Despite a legislative deadline last month, the state is unlikely to begin reporting hospital infection rates to the public until mid- 2009, public health officials told a legislative committee yesterday.

Hospitals will not be required to report their infection totals to the state until January, and health officials will not have any statistics ready for the public until the spring, Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas and Public Health Director Dr. Jose Montero told the Joint Legislative Health and Human Services Oversight Committee yesterday. Toumpas said he accepted full responsibility for the delay.

"It should be out, and we want to get it out," Montero said. "But how do we get out the correct interpretation of the data?"

The legislation was designed to provide consumers and public health officials more information about how many infections hospitals were inadvertently giving their patients. The law called for hospitals to report how often their patients caught three common and potentially deadly types of infections and how often they took certain proven prevention measures to help keep their patients safe.

The law, passed in 2006, set an August deadline, but a cut in funding and complications in determining how to accurately calculate the rates slowed the process, Montero and Toumpas said yesterday.

Many of the officials' comments described problems with the data required. Data on one of the types of infection - called ventilator- associated pneumonia, or VAP - is hard to measure and may have limited usefulness, Montero said.

"The value of VAP as an indicator of hospital-acquired infection is being questioned," Montero said.

But legislators countered that the health department should be striving to implement the legislation and not to tinker with its requirements.

"We've already passed this bill. We're not working this bill again," said Rep. Peter Batula, a Merrimack Republican on the committee who was a sponsor of the bill. "I'm concerned we're now readdressing whether the bill is good enough."

Leo Pepino, a former legislator from Manchester who was also a sponsor, told the committee he was disappointed the numbers weren't out yet.

He said that during committee hearings about the bill, few members of the public stepped forward to suggest refinements. Instead, he said, representatives from the hospitals tried to stop the effort in its tracks.

"When we were in the committee with this bill, where were these people?" he asked.

Originally published by Margot Sanger-Katz Monitor staff.

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