Hospital infections on rise in Nev., reporters find

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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Part two of Marshall Allen and Alex Richards’ Las Vegas Sun hospital investigation series “Do No Harm” takes on hospital-acquired infections. Even though no agency in the state tracks such things, the duo managed to find 2,010 instances of drug-resistant bugs in local hospitals between 2008 and 2009. That number included 647 instances of hospital-acquired MRSA.

In the story, the explain how they overcame industry resistance to dig up the data themselves:

No health agency tracks these cases. In fact, hospitals derailed proposed legislation in 2009 that would have required them to publicly report cases of MRSA in their facilities.

However, hospitals are required by law to submit to the state billing records based on each patient visit. The Sun obtained that information from 1999 to 2009 and analyzed the 2.9 million hospital billing records as part of its two-year investigation, “Do No Harm: Hospital Care in Las Vegas.”

Because of how the records are coded, the Sun was able to identify the number of infections by the two bacteria, and for the years 2008-09 further identify the cases in which the records say the patients acquired the bacteria while hospitalized.

While it’s hard to put their numbers in a national context because of widely varying methods of measurement and reporting, the duo can say that such infections jumped 34 percent from 2008 to 2009. Allen and Richards then establish two facts:

  1. Some institutions have developed ways to keep MRSA and friends under control.
  2. None of those institutions are in Las Vegas, where inspections show that hospitals could be doing a lot more.

Efforts to force Nevada hospitals to disclose MRSA cases withered under heavy industry opposition, though the legislature is now considering a watered-down version that would not public the MRSA rates of specific facilities.

It’s worth noting that the paper has published responses from readers who have plenty of their own hospital horror stories. The website includes their input both in text and through excerpts of some of the voicemails Allen has  received since the first part of the series was published. They are heart wrenching but serve as an excellent example of how reporters can involve readers in a project.

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