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Sunday, January 18, 2009

A state senator named Barack Obama: Disclosure of hospital infection rates

A night-shift nurse slipped into Jeanine Thomas' hospital room and whispered, "I don't know how you're taking this so well. If I were you, I'd be curled up in a ball crying."
The remark mystified Jeanine. She'd had ankle surgery, and yes, there had been complications. But she thought she was recovering. Was there something she didn't know?

In November 2000, Jeanine, then a 45-year-old antiques dealer, had slipped on ice and shattered her left ankle outside her suburban Chicago home. But days after surgery at her local hospital, the skin surrounding the incisions turned black, and her body swelled. Doctors wanted to amputate, but Jeanine, an avid tennis player, refused to let them.

Then, a friend told her about her mother's battle with MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant germ. Their symptoms matched. Jeanine confronted a doctor and learned the truth: She, too, had MRSA. Only now did the nurse's comment make sense.

Jeanine asked doctors how many people get MRSA. She was met by silence. "That's when I knew ― a light bulb went on in my head," she says. "They don't want anyone to know about this."

Jeanine epitomizes a revolt in health care. A growing number of consumer advocates ― many bound by ordeals with MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus ― have vowed that if the U.S. hospital system will not heal itself, they will do it.
Five years ago, not a single state forced hospitals to reveal how many patients contracted infections while under their care. Now 25 states have some form of "report card" disclosure that can make hospitals more accountable.

After her ankle healed enough that she could walk, Jeanine cobbled together bits and pieces of information about a germ that few seemed to know about.

In 2003, she helped muster support for a bill requiring Illinois hospitals to disclose infection rates. A state senator named Barack Obama co-sponsored the legislation, which passed that year.

Thanks to Helen Haskell, and Seattle Times reporters Michael Berens and Ken Armstrong for the source story.

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