One year ago, my whole life changed. I went from excellent health, running 4 miles each day, to a hospital bed, in a matter of days. My nightmare started with a simple scope procedure performed at a Southern California hospital. Little did I know that this routine procedure would result in a Heliobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, a common bacterial infection of the stomach. In my case, this infection caused a bleeding ulcer, leading to blood loss that had me collapsing in my home. An intense ambulance ride to the nearest hospital and a blood transfusion were required to save my life. This illness nearly killed me, and it was several bedridden months before I was back on my feet due to this needless infection.
My H. pylori infection was a hospital acquired infection or healthcare associated infection (HAI), that happens all too often, but is seldom discussed. Having been a part of the healthcare industry for over 30 years, HAIs were not something I thought about. I assumed, like so many others, that hospitals and healthcare facilities were there to heal, not hurt. But as I started digging into HAIs, the information was startling.
As a medical packaging professional, I’m surrounded by sterility every day … we often work in cleanrooms or controlled environments that have strict regulations in place to avoid a breach in sterility. Through this experience though, I went from healthcare professional to patient, and it was through this lens that I began to notice the many sterility breaches within the healthcare system. More importantly, I began to wonder how many others had been impacted by HAIs, and what I could do to help.
As you can imagine, this topic is one fueled by emotion from every angle. We all know that hospitals leverage strict policies for caregiver handwashing and facility cleaning, however cross contamination still happens. From my research on this topic, the biggest challenge we face is murky, outdated intel. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), for example, still refer to a study conducted from 2004 to 2008, which found that approximately one-third of unexpected in-hospital deaths were the result of HAIs. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2022, seven to 15 out of every 100 patients in acute-care hospitals will acquire at least one healthcare associated infection during their hospital stay; and on average, one in every 10 affected patients will die from that HAI. Various organizations have reported that anywhere between 100,000 to 1,000,000 people die every year from HAIs. Whatever data you look at, I think we can all agree on one thing—hospital born infections are simply too high!
As a result of my experience, I’ve become an advocate for more outreach, more education, and more action. From my hospital bed, I founded Sterile Aware®, a grassroots organization dedicated to providing novel, bold solutions and awareness to support the sterile delivery of medical devices and slow the spread of hospital associated infections. Our goal is simple—to connect ‘packaging to patients’ and beyond by changing the mindset of all who are involved in the healthcare value stream.
For me, the first step is to drive broader awareness to not only those in the healthcare industry, but perhaps more importantly, to the general public. The average person likely doesn’t know what an HAI is, but we need them to push for change … to push for something better!
Healthcare associated infections kill more people every year than breast cancer, yet the general public never hears about this uneasy fact. There is no initiative or non-profit organization that tells the story and supports these sobering facts. Sterile Aware® is working to change that by providing free educational resources, offering scholarships to healthcare packaging students, speaking out at industry events, and recognizing individuals for their contributions to sterility through the ‘Superstars in Sterile Packaging” and ‘Superstars in Sterile Awareness’ awards. To learn more about what we’re doing and how you can get involved, please visit: Our Mission - SterileAware.
When I’m out speaking to people about HAIs, it’s clear to me that more awareness is needed. So many people have a story to tell, so let’s help them tell it. Let’s listen and push for much needed change in patient safety.