By Dr. Maria Simbra, Health Editor

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — UPMC Presbyterian Hospital is policing their staff to crack down on hand washing.

The hospital hopes this will curb hard-to-treat infections.

Doctors face up to a $1,000 fine for not washing their hands. Employees will be sent home without pay. That’s what UPMC Presby is doing in attempts to reduce hospital infections.

“You see it sometimes, people just don’t follow the rules and people are getting sick,” says nursing student Emily Mildren.

“It’s very important to me, because I see the results of it,” says physician Dr. Betty Liu.

Trained layperson monitors are posted near intensive care units to watch hospital staff. If someone doesn’t wash or sanitize, they will be prompted to do so. If they refuse, they will be penalized.

“I think it’s a little bit extreme, but I have to tell you, having worked around doctors for many years, and being one myself, the best way to get people to things sometimes, is to get into their pocket,” says Dr. Bruce Dixon of the Allegheny County Health Department.

“It certainly is a strong tactic, and something we’ve never had to resort to here at St. Clair,” says Sharon Jacobs, an infection control nurse at St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon. “I would hope we could get people to do it without fines, but you never know until you’re in that situation.”

The rules went into effect Jan. 20. The move came after the number of hospital infections with bacteria called acinetobacter was higher than expected. Instead of the usual two or fewer a month, there were five.

Strains of this bacteria can live on skin and surfaces for weeks. Acinetobacter can cause pneumonia, wound infections and meningitis. These infections can be resistant to many common antibiotics.

“It’s certainly one that you don’t want to catch hold in your institution, because it can spread from patient to patient,” Jacobs explains.

The chief of infection control at UPMC, Dr. Carlene Muto, declined an on-camera interview, saying through a spokesperson her schedule was too full today. The spokesperson added that because of a similar outbreak in 2006, UPMC is confident these measures will reduce the number of infections.

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