NEW YORK (WABC) -- We trust hospitals to help make us well. What we don't expect is to get sick in a hospital. But every year, about 648,000 hospital patients develop infections during their stay, and about 75,000 die.
Consumer Reports latest research finds that while some hospitals have been successful at cutting their infection rates, many have not.
Kellie Pearson had heart surgery in April, and although the procedure went well, she developed a serious bacterial infection called C. diff during recovery.
"It was incredibly painful," she said. "The second day I told my husband, 'I think I'm going to die.'"
Infections like Kellie's can spread from patient to patient within the hospital, and some of the most threatening infections are caused by C. diff and MRSA bacteria that can live on surfaces for days and pass from hand to hand. And MRSA is resistant to some antibiotics.
"We analyzed hospital-acquired infection data for thousands of hospitals across the United States, and we rated hospitals based on how well they did at avoiding MRSA and C. diff infections," said Doris Peter, of Consumer Reports' Health Ratings Center. "And the results are sobering."
Looking at just the data for MRSA and C. diff, Consumer Reports gave five large hospitals in our area its lowest rating.
Consumer Reports says that according to the most recent information the hospitals report to the CDC, Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey; Lenox Hill and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City; along with two Long Island hospitals, Good Samaritan in West Islip and St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown; all rated low or more likely to spread infection.
Among the three large hospitals, Consumer Reports gave its highest ratings -- where you are least likely to be infected with MRSA and C. diff -- to the Bergen Regional Medical Center in Paramus..
Sharing the honor of top ratings were Mount Sinai/St. Luke's Hospital in Morningside Heights and Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow.
To prevent these infections, hospitals and hospital staff must pay close attention to cleanliness. Also, it is essential is to avoid the overuse and misuse of antibiotics, which can wipe out patients' good bacteria and let bad bacteria like
C. diff run wild.
"We know that most infections are preventable," Peter said. "And if hospitals committed to deploying evidence-based practices that reduce infections, then tens of thousands of lives could be saved each year."
Some hospitals are able to keep their infection rates low, and the best of them prevent infections by designating special staff to oversee the use of antibiotics and by following clear protocols on cleanliness.
Several of the hospitals mentioned above responded to Eyewitness News with statements. They are as follows:
Lenox Hill Hospital: "Lenox Hill Hospital and other hospitals within the North Shore-LIJ Health System are transparent in sharing their quality and performance information with the public, including infection rates that we post on our public web site. Whenever information contained in the various 'hospital report cards' identifies a quality issue, we are already aware of it and working aggressively to resolve it. Lenox Hill has had several months in 2015 with zero MRSA infections and steadily declining numbers for C. diff. There are new intensifying initiatives to attain zero infections for both."
Mount Sinai Health System: "The Mount Sinai Health System is committed to patient and staff safety. Infection prevention and control efforts are a top priority. We have instituted continuing, comprehensive programs and evidence-based processes systemwide that have resulted in significant improvements, both in our rates of hospital-acquired infections and across other measures of patient safety."
Hackensack University Medical Center: "At Hackensack University Medical Center, we are committed to efficacious protocols for prevention of hospital-acquired infections. Our diligent team of physician and nurse infection preventionists, well-trained in identifying and reporting infections, follows the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) definitions and guidelines. The prevalence of Clostridium difficile (C. diff) and MRSA has increased throughout the Northeast, particularly among admitted patients. This is mostly true for teaching hospitals and other top institutions that care for the nation's sickest and most complex patients. We have paid particular attention to secondary spread; there have been no hospital-wide outbreaks in recent years. After a room is conventionally cleaned, we have recently added utilization of the Xenex ultraviolet robot to completely destroy any MRSA and C. diff that may remain. This year, our oncology units - where some of our most vulnerable patients are treated - are below baseline rates of previous years due to the institution of stricter gloving protocols. Our team actively and continuously reviews opportunities and technologies to reduce hospital-acquired infections. Our commitment is to continual improvement on behalf of the patients and families we serve."
Here is the full report card for hospitals in our area:
Hospital report cards: Consumer Reports studies MRSA, C. diff infections