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  1. Health

St. Petersburg hospital fares poorly in national infection ratings

Register nurse Jelena Vujovic washes her hands in Patient Tower 2 at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
Register nurse Jelena Vujovic washes her hands in Patient Tower 2 at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
Published Jul. 29, 2015

St. Petersburg General Hospital is among the nation's least effective hospitals at preventing infections, according to ratings released today by the magazine Consumer Reports.

The magazine evaluated more than 3,000 hospitals based on their performance in avoiding MRSA and clostridium difficile, two types of bacteria that can lead to fatal infections. Consumer Reports also examined data on central-line associated blood stream infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections and surgical-site infections.

St. Petersburg General, which is owned by the for-profit hospital chain Hospital Corporation of America, fared poorly in all five categories. It was listed among the 12 lowest-rated hospitals in the country.

In a statement provided to the Tampa Bay Times, hospital spokeswoman Pam Yarbrough said St. Petersburg General had met the federal government's national benchmark for MRSA and clostridium difficile infections as reported on the Medicare website.

"This is in addition to being recognized as a top performer on key quality measures by the Joint Commission," Yarbrough said, naming the nonprofit that accredits U.S. health care organizations and programs.

No Tampa Bay area hospitals were included among Consumer Reports' nine highest-rated hospitals.

St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg and Morton Plant North Bay Hospital in New Port Richey earned some of the top scores in the region. Both are part of BayCare Health System.

"We're really focused on continuously improving in this area," said Dr. Charles DeShazer, BayCare's chief quality officer. "We're happy to see the results."

Bayfront Health Dade City, Florida Hospital North Pinellas and Florida Hospital Zephyrhills fared well, too.

On any given day, an estimated 1 in 25 patients in a U.S. hospital has an infection they picked up during their hospital stay, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. About 75,000 patients die annually as a result.

Experts say hospitals can avoid infections by keeping facilities clean, encouraging practices such as hand-washing, and ensuring that gowns, masks and gloves are used properly.

To assess how hospitals are doing, Consumer Reports looked at various types of infections, including two drug-resistant "super bugs."

"High rates for MRSA and C. diff can be a red flag that a hospital isn't following the best practices in preventing infections and prescribing antibiotics," said Doris Peter, who oversees the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.

The magazine used data the hospitals provided to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from October 2013 to September 2014. The figures were adjusted based on each hospital's size and whether it is a teaching hospital.

Each hospital received six ratings: one in each of five infection categories, as well as a composite rating. The best possible rating went to hospitals with zero infections. Hospitals that performed at least 50 percent better than the national baseline received the second-highest rating.

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St. Anthony's Hospital, which has about 395 beds, received the second-highest composite rating. It also earned high marks for avoiding MRSA and clostridium difficile infections.

Morton Plant North Bay did not report a single MRSA or central-line infection, and fared well when it came to catheter-related urinary tract infections and surgical-site infections. The New Port Richey hospital has about 150 beds.

DeShazer, the BayCare quality officer, said the hospital has a specific approach to preventing infection. For one, the staff uses antibiotics only when absolutely necessary.

"MRSA and C. diff become more prevalent when you have indiscriminate use of antibiotics," DeShazer said. "That's what drives the resistance. By being careful about that, we find it decreases the development of resistant bacteria."

He said the hospitals are also conservative about their use of catheters, which can introduce infection into the body.

"For any type of instrumentation — a catheter into the vein, a urinary catheter — we always challenge whether it is really needed at that point," DeShazer said.

A handful of hospitals in the Tampa Bay region posted lower-than-average ratings, including Bayfront Health Brooksville, Florida Hospital Tampa, Memorial Hospital of Tampa, Northside Hospital, Oak Hill Hospital, Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, South Bay Hospital, Tampa Community Hospital and Tampa General Hospital.

St. Petersburg General received either the lowest or the second-lowest rating in each of the five categories.

This isn't the first time St. Petersburg General has been singled out by Consumer Reports. A report published last year tagged it as one of the most unsafe hospitals in the country for seniors. The hospital scored poorly for surgical deaths and excessive radiation exposure.

In addition to St. Petersburg General, two other Florida hospitals were included on the list of the 12 lowest-rated hospitals for avoiding infections: UF Health Jacksonville and Venice Regional Bayfront Health.

One hospital in Florida made the list of the nation's highest-rated hospitals: Jupiter Medical Center in Palm Beach County.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.

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