Las Vegas Sun

July 23, 2019

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Do No Harm: hospital care in las vegas:

State to host summit on halting spread of MRSA superbug

Confronted with a deadly MRSA epidemic, Nevada health care regulators will gather officials from across the state to draw attention to the problem and identify solutions.

Reversing the lethal superbug’s spread will be the focus of the summit next month, when officials from hospitals, nursing homes and schools as well as the general public will discuss how to best combat the drug-resistant bacteria.

Las Vegas hospital patients were infected with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA, 18,563 times from 1999 to 2009, a Las Vegas Sun investigation found. The rate of infection from the bacteria in hospitals is climbing, the newspaper found.

The Sun’s investigation, “Do No Harm: Hospital Care in Las Vegas,” prompted the Nevada State Health Division to sponsor the MRSA conference, scheduled for Nov. 16 at the Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel, 3400 Paradise Road.

The investigation examined only one aspect the community and nationwide problem — hospitals. The newspaper did not analyze the presence of MRSA in nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, or schools and gymnasiums, where it can appear in its community-acquired form.

Community-acquired MRSA often looks like a skin rash and is more easily treated than health care-acquired MRSA, which manifests itself as a bloodstream infection, surgical site infection or pneumonia. MRSA can be transmitted by contact, and each case can add thousands of dollars to treatment costs and lead to permanent disability or death.

MRSA “can pose a deadly threat to people but it’s totally preventable,” said Julia Peek, manager of the Nevada State Health Division’s epidemiology office. “We need to address it at the prevention point.”

The sessions will be aimed at officials who can help prevent the spread of the bacteria and people who have been harmed by it and want to help others avoid becoming victims. Every school superintendent in the state has been sponsored to attend the conference, officials said.

The state needs to attack MRSA from a public health perspective, Peek said, so prevention methods can be developed in each arena and best practices shared.

Conference speakers will include a representative of Veterans Affairs Department hospitals, which have virtually eliminated hospital-acquired cases of MRSA, the Sun reported.

The health division will announce at the conference funding for pilot projects to reduce MRSA infections, Peek said. The state wants facilities to identify and implement best practices to reduce MRSA infections and then report back what worked well and what did not, she said. The grants, which will be about $20,000 each, will be funded by fines obtained from facilities not meeting standards.

“We want to use that money to turn back to them and say: ‘Improve your quality. Improve your safety,’ ” Peek said.

Marcia Friedman, whose mother, Eleanor, died of MRSA after contracting it at a hospital, was encouraged by word of the conference.

Click to enlarge photo

Marcia Friedmans 91-year-old mother was recovering from a blood clot at a local hospital last year when she was infected with MRSA and died. Friedman was photographed in her Las Vegas home July 1, 2010.

“I think that the state of Nevada should be applauded for getting behind it,” Friedman said. “Hopefully something positive will come of it and the hospitals will be open to not just hearing about it, but really improving the situation.”

The St. Rose Dominican Hospitals chain and University Medical Center are the only facilities in Las Vegas to make public their infection rates. Other facilities in Las Vegas — as do many nationwide — keep the information from consumers.

Friedman said no change will come unless legislators hold health care facilities accountable, “but the great thing about this conference is that it can start the action to bring about that legislation change.”

A representative of the advocacy group PLAN, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, will attend the conference to help consumers learn how to become advocates for legislative change.

Jan Gilbert, Northern Nevada director for PLAN, said consumers can have a powerful voice in the legislative process. That adds gravity to conversations about legislative solutions, which otherwise often become intellectual pursuits, she said.

“It is much stronger from an advocacy standpoint to hear personal stories,” Gilbert said.

Maryn McKenna, author of the book “Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA,” will be the conference keynote speaker. She said she is unaware of any other health agency in the country sponsoring a MRSA conference even though the epidemic is nationwide.

The conference is “incredibly important” to help people get the broader picture of the bacteria’s presence in the community, she said. That helps individuals see that their experience is not isolated, but part of a bigger phenomenon.

“That global appreciation of the size and reach of this epidemic is what we need more of if we’re going to beat this thing back,” McKenna said.

The conference is open to anyone, and those interested in signing up may call Peek, with the Nevada State Health Division, at 775-684-4192.

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