California Health Officials Often Delay Public Disclosure of Outbreaks
Hospitals in California are required to report hospital-acquired infection outbreaks to state health officials, but they face no financial repercussions for failing to do so, the Los Angeles Times reports.
As result, details of hospital-acquired infection outbreaks often are not revealed to the public until months or years later, according to the Times.
In 2008, the state Legislature approved Nile's Law, which was named after a California teenager who died in 2006 from a hospital-acquired infection. The law gives the public access to some data about hospital-acquired patient infections and requires hospitals to report to the state information about four bacterial infections and a number of surgery-site infections.
Outbreaks Often Not Reported Until Years Later
Despite the law, there have been several cases of California hospital outbreaks that were not immediately publicly disclosed. In some cases, details of the cases were omitted, according to the Times.
For example, a surgeon with a staph infection at a Los Angeles County hospital in 2012 operated on more than 60 patients, unwittingly transmitting the infection to at least five patients. However, the case was not publicly mentioned until a year later in a county health department report, which did not disclose the hospital's name.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles County health officials in 2012 investigated an outbreak of fungal infections caused by construction dust at a county hospital. The infections affected 12 children in the hospital's bone marrow transplant unit, six of whom died, and the infection was named the cause of death in three of the cases. The investigation findings were not published until months later in the health department's annual report, but the hospital was not identified. A Times investigation linked the case to Children's Hospital of Los Angeles.
Advocates Take Issue With Lack of Public Reporting
CDC spokesperson Melissa Brower said that local and state health officials can decide whether to report to the public details about outbreaks.
According to the Times, health investigators across the country often keep outbreaks confidential to encourage hospitals to promptly report suspected infections.
However, some advocates argue that such secrecy can hinder hospitals' ability to learn from other facilities' mistakes and can prevent patients from making informed decisions on where to receive care.
The California Hospital Association has opposed several bills designed to strengthen public reporting requirements.
CHA spokesperson Jan Emerson-Shea said that if the association opposed a bill in the past "it was usually particular wording." She added, "Do not make the conclusion that CHA has opposed public reporting" (Petersen, Los Angeles Times, 4/18).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.