According to the Alabama Department of Public Health's annual report on infection rates released Thursday, Regional Medical Center in Anniston improved from last year and met national averages for healthcare-associated infections. The improvement efforts are part of a statewide attempt to lower infection rates while improving patient care and lowering costs, health care industry experts say.
The improvement comes just a year after the hospital showed below-average infection rates for certain categories in the state's first report on the subject. The report rates hospitals based on four categories infections, including catheter associated urinary tract, central line-associated bloodstream, colon surgery and abdominal hysterectomy infections.
The report shows RMC had fewer catheter associated urinary tract infections in 2012 than in 2011, meeting the national average for the year. The hospital reported urinary tract infections that were above the national average in 2011.
The report also shows RMC remained in line with the national averages for the other three categories in 2012 as it did in 2011.
"We are continually trying to improve and to get better," said Kandi Williams, infection preventionist at RMC. "I'm pleased at the progress the hospital is making ... it is heading in the right direction."
Williams said RMC increased the training of its staff to lower the infection rates.
"We've done a lot of hands-on education with our staff related to catheter care," Williams said.
Meanwhile, Anniston’s Stringfellow Memorial Hospital was in line with the national average for urinary tract and colon surgery infections last year -- performing the same as it did in 2011. However, Stringfellow performed far fewer patients than RMC in both categories, meaning less chance for infection. Stringfellow had no ranking in the other two categories because the hospital did not have enough cases last year for an accurate calculation in the report's statistical model.
Attempts to reach Stringfellow for comment were unsuccessful Friday.
RMC Jacksonville did not have a ranking in any of the four categories because it had too few cases to report.
RMC and Stringfellow meet national averages of infection rates, however, many state hospitals still performed better. The report shows that on average, Alabama hospitals performed better than the national average in all four categories. In the previous report, Alabama's hospitals performed better than national averages in just three of the categories.
"This is recognition of a lot of hard work going on," said Rosemary Blackmon, vice president of the Alabama Hospital Association.
Blackmon said hospital infections are a national problem and the state's reason for the annual report was to encourage hospitals to address the issue.
"Infections are an issue at all hospitals," Williams said.
Blackmon said reducing infections means better care for patients, but also less costs for hospitals. According to a study of 70 hospitals conducted by the Alabama Hospital Association between 2010 and 2012, infection reduction efforts at those facilities saved $5 million and prevented 1,258 infections in the first year.
"That shows the magnitude of reduction," Blackmon said.
Williams said she and the rest of RMC staff are not satisfied with their latest infection rates and plan to continue their efforts to reduce them.
"Our goal is zero infections," Williams said. "We're going to continue to reinforce our programs and education for our staff."
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.