Hospital infections and the toll they can take have been on our radar for a while now, thanks largely to Howie McKew championing the issue. Most recently, Dr. Stephanie Taylor of Taylor Healthcare Commissioning (Stowe, VT) wrote a July feature, “Managing Your Hospital Building Can Save Patient Lives.” That was just a part one, and we look forward to the other part in November. While we traditionally attack designs and facilities with energy efficiency at the front of our minds, these environments and their unusually vulnerable populations demand a reorganization of project team priorities.
This situation didn’t get any easier with the release last month of a study conducted by Duke University Medical Center scientists between 2008 and 2112. I encourage you to check out the radio show Here And Now and the quick 9-minute interview they conducted with Dr. Joshua Thaden. You can go to http://hereandnow.wbur.org and search his name to pull up the full interview.
This particular study focused on a bacteria referred to as CRE (cabapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae). It flourishes in part due to a frequent overreliance on antibiotics, which I’m sure is a problem about which you’ve already heard.
“It can be quite difficult to sometimes figure out if someone needs antibiotics or not,” Thaden said in the interview. “There’s a lot of folks that have a viral infection, for example, (who) will get prescribed antibiotics, but antibiotics actually aren’t effective against viruses.” But no matter, the patient’s resistance to the type of drug will increase anyway, leaving less room for success next time.
Honestly, I’ve typically thought of theantibiotic overdependence and hospital-acquired infections as being two separate problems. However, CRE seems to represent the confluence of those two circumstances — a “superbug” that is both readily present in health care environments and quick to jump from patient to patient. The researchers estimate the mortality rate around 50% based on their work. Most disturbingly, as Here And Now reports, they found that CRE’s presence “has increased five fold from 2008 to 2112” in the quintet of hospitals involved in the study.
Back to Dr. Taylor — she’ll look at the issue from a slightly higher elevation for a while, looking at the historical events that have led to the current typical levels of disconnect between HVAC guidelines and hospitals and infection control. Then she will explore reasons and strategies for reuniting these two areas, and we’ll investigate not only the patient safety improvements but also the energy conservation outcomes that are possible.
In the meantime, if you’re like me, you’ll be inclined to eat a few more veggies and maybe exercise a little more to try to ward off the need to go to the hospital in the first place. A lot of people won’t have a choice, of course, for whatever reason. It’s hard to think of a bigger opportunity for design and O&M to have a bigger impact on the quality of life for our fellow humans. Remember to check out November’s piece and we’ll report back.