Hospital-acquired infections aren’t a new health care problem or issue in the legal world, but with a worldwide pandemic happening, more people might be wondering what these infections are, and what potential legal options they have available to them if they or their loved one becomes ill in a hospital or health care setting.
According to the legal team at Zavodnick, Zavodnick & Lasky, covid-19 appears to be stronger than other types of coronaviruses, and it may spread faster.
That spread may be amplified even further in hospital settings, where infection control is a constant issue. The following are some things to know about hospital-acquired infections, and what you should do if you develop one of these infections or someone in your family does.
What Are Health Care-Associated Infections?
According to the federal government, hospital-acquired infections, also known as healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), occur when people become infected with a virus or bacteria while they’re in a facility getting care for something else.
Along with hospitals, other areas where HAIs are fairly common can include ambulatory surgical centers, long-term care facilities, and facilities where end-stage renal disease is treated.
HAIs can include viruses and bacteria but also fungi, or sometimes other pathogens, and these illnesses are a common cause of not just sickness but also death.
An estimated 1 in 25 inpatients develop an infection related to their care in the hospital.
Specific and common types of HAIs include urinary tract infections associated with catheters, infections at surgical sites, and infections of the bloodstream.
Pneumonia and clostridium difficile are also frequently reported infections that come primarily from health care settings.
Sepsis is a term frequently used when discussing HAI.
Sepsis can cause fever, elevated white blood cells, and inflammation throughout the entire body. Sepsis death rates range from 20% to 40%, and it’s one of the major causes of death after someone is treated in an emergency room or ICU.
Coronavirus Infections in Health Care Settings
Back in mid-April, the number of health care workers who had tested positive for coronavirus was already officially at 9,200 and was estimated even at that time to likely be much higher.
By then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was also reporting 27 health care worker deaths, but those numbers were only coming from 16% of the cases of covid-19 in the country. That led officials to believe the true number of health care infections and deaths was probably higher.
Another area where covid-19 transmission is a serious and often deadly issue are nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
For example, at the start of May, New York state was reporting that at least 4,800 residents of state nursing homes died from covid-19 infections.
HAI Risk Factors
There are a variety of identified HAI risk factors.
For example, there are individual patient risk factors, such as the functionality of their immune system or the severity of the illness they’re admitted into a facility for.
Some issues are related to the facility, such as the HVAC filtration system or how clean the surfaces and medical devices are.
Beyond that, there are behavioral risk factors of the staff. For example, how often are hands washed, and what are the procedures and protocols for intravenously administering medications or doing intubations?
Could You Have a Legal Case?
If you or a family member becomes ill and you believe it’s through an infection acquired at a hospital or in a medical setting, you may have a lawsuit.
You would typically need to show that the facility or providers, who would be the defendant, was liable in some way.
To do this, a medical expert witness might be brought in.
This witness would be independent and neutral and would look at the factors that went into the treatment situation to see if they followed the appropriate standard of care.
Specific examples of negligence that could contribute to hospital-acquired infections can include misdiagnosis, inexperienced health care providers, or surgical errors.
In any case of medical malpractice, it can be challenging and complex to show liability, and an investigation will be required.
If you or your family has been affected by covid-19 or another hospital-acquired infection, the best thing you can do is speak to a legal professional who understands these types of cases and can help you learn more about whether or not a lawsuit is the appropriate course of action.