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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

The Economy’s Impact on Infection Control

Published June 11, 2009 1:13 PM by Lisa Brzezicki
According to results of an online poll of nearly 2,000 infection preventionists, the economic recession is forcing many U.S. hospitals to reduce infection prevention staff and resources. Members of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) responded to an APIC survey from March 20-27, with 41 percent reporting cuts in budgets for infection prevention in the last 18 months. At a time when the threat of pandemic is very real and healthcare-associated infections are on the rise, budget cuts in prevention and education leading to layoffs, pay cuts, purchasing freezes and workloads that have increased enough to hinder infection prevention, couldn't have come at a worse time, says APIC's 2009 Economic Survey.

Some interesting, and alarming, findings from the survey:

  • Cuts are affecting the essence of infection prevention - a quarter of respondents have reduced surveillance activities to detect, track and manage healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).
  • Education budgets have been hard hit. Three-quarters of those whose budgets were cut have experienced decreases for the education that trains healthcare workers in preventing the transmission of HAIs. Half saw reductions in overall budgets for infection prevention, including money for technology, staff, education, products, equipment and updated resources; nearly 40 percent had layoffs or reduced hours, and a third experienced hiring freezes.
  • Cuts have impaired infection prevention programs - a third of the respondents say cuts in staffing and resources reduce their capacity to focus on infection prevention.
  • Technology is lagging. Only one in five respondents have data-mining programs - electronic surveillance systems that allow infection preventionists to identify and investigate potential infections in real time enabling them to intervene quickly.
  • Infection prevention departments are understaffed. Almost two-thirds of respondents have one or less than one full-time-equivalent position dedicated to infection prevention, while almost 90 percent have zero or less than one full-time equivalent for clerical or analytic support. In fact, one respondent reported, "I am in my office 80 percent of the time. I do not have time to do my surveillance - I haven't been in the OR for 8 months."

According to APIC, HAIs cause almost 100,000 deaths annually in the U.S. and add more than $20 billion to the nation's healthcare tab. I agree with APIC, that despite the recession, now is not the time to reduce budgets for preventing infection.

What's the solution? See the full survey and read what APIC recommends healthcare facilities do to address this growing problem.

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