CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Novant Health announces it has increased handwashing compliance from 49 percent to 99 percent and decreased methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection rates by 53 percent from 2005 to mid-year 2008 by implementing a hard-hitting, system-wide campaign that changed the health system's culture and spared an estimated 249 patients from the medical complications of MRSA.
Executives at Novant Health feel so strongly about hand hygiene and improving the quality and safety of patient care, they are making the health system's educational materials and details of their preventive program available and downloadable free of charge at www.WashingHandsSavesLives.org.
"Any health system can accomplish what we did," said Paul Wiles, Novant Health’s CEO, whose team embarked on the no-holds-barred, zero-tolerance campaign after Wiles was devastated by the death of a premature infant from MRSA and a MRSA outbreak in a Novant hospital neonatal unit.
Wiles learned the spread of MRSA to 18 premature infants was a direct result of hospital staff and physicians not properly washing their hands before, in between or after caring for these infants. Two infants died from complications related to being born prematurely and to MRSA.
"What an enormous cost to pay for neglecting the very simplest of precautionary measures of infection control," said Wiles. "The true cost had been in human life, but there also was the significant loss of honor and pride among clinical staff who personally accepted their failure amid careers they devoted to saving lives instead of taking them. After reading a report about this case, I realized my role as CEO must be creating a culture of hand hygiene and infection control because nobody else but me could make that happen."
The campaign -- which includes hiring hand hygiene monitors to roam hospital halls and educate doctors and nurses who don't properly wash their hands, and billboards, screensavers and tough posters such as one that shows a child in a hospital bed and warns, "You Could Kill Him With Your Bare Hands" -- is in its third year, despite early discomfort by some hospital staff and the risks involved in such directness.
Novant had always used the traditional resources for hand hygiene education that many hospitals in America use today, but it was obviously not enough because it never changed behavior, according to Jim Tobalski, senior vice president of marketing and communications at Novant Health. Tobalski was charged with spearheading the employee educational campaign and helping the clinical team improve hand hygiene compliance. He admits that he initially had no idea how to accomplish the goal.
"The project was huge, but I knew to be successful, we had to scrap what I refer to as the traditional 'Mr. Scrubby Bubbles' approach and do something totally different," said Tobalski, a Seinfeld TV show fan whose ultimate decision to follow Seinfeld character George Costanza's example and "do the opposite" paid off.
Novant's two-year results come at a time when a recent survey by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) shows most infection prevention professionals don't believe hospitals are doing enough to ensure proper hand hygiene. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated estimates of healthcare-associated infections to 1.7 million infections and 99,000 associated deaths in U.S. hospitals each year.
"When we began our campaign, it was estimated that only 40 percent to 50 percent of hospital workers nationwide washed their hands properly," said Wiles. "That's unacceptable. We must all create a culture that prioritizes proper hand hygiene and infection control, makes people accountable and accepts nothing less."
Source: Novant Health