Hand Washing is the No. 1 Way to Fight Infections, Inside and Outside Any Hospital
By Stephen K. Peeples 
At Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital  in Valencia, preventing and controlling the spread of infection is a battle doctors, nurses and staff fight on two fronts.
One is inside the hospital among patients and caregivers. The other is off the hospital campus, among the more than 275,000 local residents Henry Mayo serves in the Santa Clarita Valley.
The No. 1 weapon on both fronts is hand hygiene , or hand washing, according to Judy Hagerty (pictured at right), R.N., M.S., C.I.C and the infection prevention specialist at Henry Mayo.
Hand washing is important all year around, but more so now as we approach the cold and flu season, she said.
Hagerty’s focus at Henry Mayo, though, is preventing the typical infections patients might get while in the hospital for myriad other reasons.
"It could be pneumonia, a bloodstream infection, or a gastrointestinal bacterium we call Clostridium Difficile," she said. "Those are examples of what patients might pick up as a result of being in the hospital. Not just at Henry Mayo, but any hospital.
Henry Mayo’s Below-Average Patient Infection Rates
"Our infection rates are low," she said. "I can’t say we’re perfect, because if any person from infection prevention at any another hospital tells you their hospital has no infections, it would be untrue. I can tell you, honestly, that we’re below the benchmarks or the national averages for all hospital-acquired infections.”
Henry Mayo made U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Hospitals ” list three years in a row, 2010-2012, and ranked as one of the region’s best hospitals. The survey reviewed performance of 4,800 hospitals nationwide, looking at patient survival and infection rates, patient safety, nursing ratios and other quality and performance measures.
Statewide, Henry Mayo outranked 400 other California hospitals on the U.S. News & World Report “Best Hospitals” list for 2012-2013, and placed among the top 30 out of 140 hospitals in the Los Angeles area.
One Case of Infection is ‘Too Many’
Henry Mayo’s below-average patient infection rates are great, but at the end of the day, Hagerty said, “One infection to us is too many, so we’re constantly developing strategies to fight them."
Along with hand hygiene, which includes washing hands with hot water and soap and/or using an alcohol-based gel hand-sanitizer, Hagerty develops and oversees other practices and procedures to kill infectious germs and bacteria in the hospital.
They include "keeping the environment clean, and wiping down common surfaces that people and patients touch," she said.
"Another way is by patient placement. If a patient has a certain type of infection, we sequester them in a private room, away from other patients," she said. "A third way is educating the staff."
RELATED: CDC Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings (Standards) 
Lesson No. 1 for the staff: that's right, hand hygiene. Then comes "bundling," or following a series of evidence-based processes on a checklist th4e hospital has developed.
"They're done in a specific way with certain steps, making sure you don’t leave any steps out," Hagerty said. "That’s a big thing in infection control now, taking after the airline industry, and getting those steps just right so it lowers the risk to the patient, as well as the care-givers. Standardizing those procedures is very effective in preventing infections."
Fighting Infection among Santa Clarita Valley Residents
It’s the first full week of school for the 2013-2014 semester, and most incoming students are required to have received the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella), the T-dap vaccine (pertussis or whooping cough) and one for chicken pox, Haggerty said.
She urges parents to learn about the importance of good hand hygiene, and educate their children. Hand washing cuts down on student-to-student infections.
It also reduces the ripple effect, when students take school-borne germs home to infect their siblings, parents and, worse, grandparents whose immune systems aren’t what they used to be.
Hagerty recommends seasonal flu shots, which usually become available in mid-September. Adults will need just one shot to be protected this season, she said.
Children need two this year, 28 days apart. “The earlier you vaccinate your kids, the better,” Hagerty said, adding that only “about 50 percent of children in the United States get vaccinated against the flu, so we have a long way to go."
Vaccines for School Kids Help Protect the Population
She acknowledged a lingering suspicion some parents have about the safety of vaccinating their kids.
“I just talk to those parents about benefit outweighing risk," Hagerty said.
"There’s a huge history behind that," she said. "A physician in England claimed his studies showed an increased risk of autism with vaccines. Later, it was discovered that some of the children in his studies shpwed signs of autism prior to being vaccinated. For this reason and other inconsistencies in his data, his priveleges to practice medicine in the U.K. were revoked. The whole thing was debunked.
"It has huge repercussions now because there are still pockets where people don't vaccinate their kids," she said. "There's an area in Wales where, somehow, somebody prominent got to the media, and a lot of (parents) didn’t vaccinate their kids against measles, so they have a huge outbreak. It’s really tragic, because it’s totally preventable."
Haggerty sees individual rights going up to a point, but when personal behavior puts the health of the general population at risk, the individual has to take some responsibility.
"I feel very strongly about that," she said. "That goes over into healthcare providers getting flu vaccines. I think it’s part of the Hippocratic Oath – to do no harm – that it should be mandatory to receive it. The risk to (healthcare providers) from receiving the vaccine is much less than the risk to their patients, of giving their patients influenza."
As Hagerty noted, “The California Senate actually passed a bill which pretty much mandated influenza vaccination for health care workers, but (Gov.) Jerry Brown vetoed it, stating that the requirement was not reasonable. I was disappointed."
Future Trend in Hand Hygiene
All things considered, Hagerty said the importance of hand hygiene and hand washing in stopping the spread of infectious germs and bacteria should be the reader’s most important take-away from this article.
She noted a trend among large hospitals she hopes will soon extend to community hospitals like Henry Mayo.
"Now, there are electronic ways to measure compliance with hand hygiene in healthcare workers,” Hagerty said. “At major medical centers with the capacity to pay for this technology where healthcare workers know they’re being monitored individually, hospital-acquired infections have gone down by as much as 80 percent. That tells you right there how important hand hygiene is."
For more information, call 661-253-8000 or visit www.henrymayo.com .
Photo: Courtesy Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.
Infection Prevention A Priority At Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital
Article: Infection Prevention A Priority At Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital 
Source: Santa Clarita News
Author: Stephen Peeples