UPMC Presby Cracks Down On Hand Washing

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.

  • Ace Slick

    If they had to “crack down”, could you imagine with it was like BEFORE?

    Poor Dr. Carlene Muto with the full schedule. She probably was in a meeting trying to get rolls of toilet paper installed in the bathroom. Or hand towels so the doctors didn’t have to use their pant to dry their hands.

  • Anonoyomus

    Having worked at UPMC Shadyside, I think there are ways to improve & compliance & monitors & fines are not the answer. First off those bottles of hand sanitizer attached to the wall need to go. Hospital staff shouldn’t use them. Due to the alcohol they start drying out & burning your skin with repeated use. The hand-soap needs to be reformulated to be milder with lotion already in it. It can’t dry out your hands or burn with repeated use. I washed my hands entering a patients room & leaving it. I was washing my hands over a hundred times a day & my hands were so sore coming home. This is what makes people not want to wash.

  • Shelly Rosborough

    My neice is one of the five, and all I can say is DAMN everyone who didn’t wash their hands. She is paralyzed from the neck down and has constantly fought infections and pneumonia since being in Presbyterian for 3 months. If all of her infections are because health care workers don’t wash their hands they shouldn’t be fined they should be fired and their license revoked.

  • Mary

    Hand sanitizer was intended for use when soap/water isn’t available, not for use between patients. If I were in a position where I had to wash my hands 100x per day and didn’t like the soap that was made available, then I would carry a soap I liked with me. (the same way I see nurses carry small bottles of sanitizer on their stethoscopes which are usually very dirty btw)

  • Jackie

    My grandmother who also could be considered one of the five, had a routine back operation on September 13, 2010 @ Presby. After battling a reoccurring infection in the wound, meningitis and pneumonia she lost the fight and passed away December 21, 2010. My grandmother was a dancer, though she was hesitant to have this operation, she was in pain and wanted to be able to dance again. If my grandmother died because somebody didn’t wash their hands, Shelly I totally agree with you, they should be fired, not fined. Aren’t we taught that washing your hands prevents the spread of germs and viruses?! At least that’s what I teach my 6,5 and 3 year olds. We should not have to remind our healthcare workers.

  • physexec

    Resorting to punitive measures reflects incompetent senior leadership. There are better ways to do this. Effective leadership can accomplish the same goals without resorting to the billy club approach.

  • John Smith

    Its really scary that you have to tell medical staff to wash their hands. I would think they would know better. Whats even more scary is seeing medical staff at a local swingers event and they are having intercourse with different people and they don’t use protection or doesn’t wash hand before going on a call. For some reason I have notice medical staff think they can’t spread germs. I know what they do on their personal time is their business but I still think they should live up to a higher standard. I am kinda disgusted going to the hospital now. Its not just doctor’s that act this way.
    I have lost respect for people who act this way. We have been taught this since we where a child. What has happened to having morals and common sense! It so nasty!

  • just making a case

    The next step should be to boot all visitors out of the hospital who refuse to wash hands or follow isolation precautions. I can’t tell you how many times I have to tell visitors to gown up when visiting people with MRSA. The response is typical “I live with them, I already have it, blah, blah, blah.”
    Well, guess what? When that visitor leaves the room, they touch handrails, elevator buttons, doorknobs, etc. And we wonder why infections are rampant?



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