“It’s never an easy business to predict which flu viruses
will make people sick the following winter. And there’s reason to believe two
of the four choices made last winter for this upcoming season’s vaccine could
be off the mark.”
“Flu circulation “remains difficult to predict and flu
viruses are constantly breaking rules that we try to establish for them,”..”
“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy” *
Health Officer: Where vaccination sites should be
established? Is there a special plan to monitor restaurants and food shops
where flu-related safety guidelines need to be strictly enforced? Who will
start preparing a Community Education plan?
Hospital: What is the back-up plan if hospital becomes
“contaminated” and is closed to admissions, or if nursing staff is depleted by
flu-related absenteeism, etc.? ICU triage? Availability of respirators?
screening centers if hospital ER is on overload
Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps: “mutual assist” plan
Hoboken Police Department & Hoboken Fire Department:
back-up plan if the ranks get depleted by the flu
BOE: criteria in deciding whether or not to close schools
Stevens Institute of Technology: surveillance and plan for
“Field Manual” for the Mayor outlining all variabilities and
Why was there no swine flu surge in NJ/ NYC metro area?
maybe “herd” immunity” from prior year’s flu?
“Australia had an unusually early and fairly severe flu
season this year. Since that may foretell a serious outbreak on its way in the
United States, public health experts now are urging Americans to get their flu
shots as soon as possible.
“It’s too early to tell for sure, because sometimes
Australia is predictive and sometimes it’s not,” said Dr. Daniel B. Jernigan,
director of the influenza division of the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. “But the best move is to get the vaccine right now.”..
In 2017, Australia suffered its worst outbreak in the 20
years since modern surveillance techniques were adopted. The 2017-2018 flu
season in the United States, which followed six months later as winter came to
the Northern Hemisphere, was one of the worst in modern American memory, with
an estimated 79,000 dead.” (A)
“Maryland health officials on Tuesday confirmed the first 11
influenza cases of the flu season. Officials urge Marylanders to get vaccinated.
“We don’t know yet whether flu activity this early indicates
a particularly bad season on the horizon,” Maryland Department of Health
Secretary Robert R. Neall said in a statement. “Still, we can’t emphasize
strongly enough – get your flu shot now. Don’t put it off. The vaccine is
widely available at grocery stores, pharmacies and local health clinics, in
addition to your doctor’s office.”
Most of the 11 cases recorded since Sept. 1 have been
subtyped as influenza A, with a few classified as influenza B. Though most
influenza cases are mild, the virus can pose a serious risk for young children,
seniors, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.
During last year’s flu season, 3,274 people were
hospitalized and 82 died as a result of the flu in Maryland, according to state
health officials.” (B)
“The first pediatric influenza-associated death of the
2019-20 flu season has been reported in California. According to a statement
issued by Riverside University Health System a 4-year-old child who tested
positive for the flu and had underlying health issues passed away from his
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) a total of 130 influenza-associated pediatric deaths were
reported during the 2018-19 flu season. This number was a decrease from the 187
pediatric deaths reported during the 2017-18 season.
CDC investigators hypothesize that the real-world impact of
the flu is being underreported. “Using mathematical modeling to account for
under-detection, CDC estimates that the actual number of flu-related deaths in
children during [the 2017-18] season was closer to 600—nearly 3 times what was
reported through existing mechanisms,” the authors of a recent report wrote in
a flu spotlight.
Cameron Kaiser, MD, public health officer of Riverside
County, says that this early season death could be predictive of a severe flu
“The overall effectiveness of last flu season’s vaccine was
only 29% because it didn’t protect against a flu virus that appeared later in
the season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It said the vaccine was 47% effective into February, but
that dropped to just 9% after the late strain showed up, the Associated Press
Flu vaccines are created each year to protect against flu
strains predicted to be circulating in the upcoming season.
The effectiveness of last season’s vaccine was the second
lowest since 2011. The vaccine for the 2014-15 flu season was only 19%
effective, the AP reported.” (D)
It’s never an easy business to predict which flu viruses
will make people sick the following winter. And there’s reason to believe two
of the four choices made last winter for this upcoming season’s vaccine could
be off the mark.
Twice a year influenza experts meet at the World Health
Organization to pore over surveillance data provided by countries around the
world to try to predict which strains are becoming the most dominant. The
Northern Hemisphere strain selection meeting is held in late February; the
Southern Hemisphere meeting occurs in late September.
The selections that officials made…for the next Southern
Hemisphere vaccine suggest that two of four viruses in the Northern Hemisphere
vaccine that doctors and pharmacies are now pressing people to get may not be
optimally protective this winter. Those two are influenza A/H3N2 and the
influenza B/Victoria virus…
Flu vaccine is a four-in-one or a three-in-one shot that
protects against both influenza A viruses — H3N2 and H1N1 — and either both or
one of the influenza B viruses, B/Victoria and B/Yamagata. Most flu vaccine is
made with killed viruses, and most vaccine used in the United States is
quadrivalent — four-in-one…
“A shortage of high dose flu shots is concerning some older
The Vanderburgh County Health Department says people older
than 65 are recommended to take a high dose flu shot.
Director of Clinical Outreach, Lynn Herr, says there is an
option rather than not getting the shot at all.
“Then we need to have a conversation with our primary caregiver
saying go ahead and get the regular or go ahead and wait for the higher dose
According to the CDC, the high dose vaccine helps people 65
years or older have a better fight against the flu.
This shot contains four times the antigen than a regular flu
“DEFINITION OF EMERGENCY RESPONSE
“Emergencies”? Emergencies are incidents that threaten public safety, health
and welfare. If severe or prolonged,
they can exceed the capacity of first responders, local fire fighters or law
enforcement officials. Such incidents
range widely in size, location, cause, and effect, but nearly all have an
environmental component.” (G)
Medical surge capacity refers to the ability to evaluate and
care for a markedly increased volume of patients—one that challenges or exceeds
normal operating capacity. The surge requirements may extend beyond direct
patient care to include such tasks as extensive laboratory studies or
Because of its relation to patient volume, most current
initiatives to address surge capacity focus on identifying adequate numbers of
hospital beds, personnel, pharmaceuticals, supplies, and equipment. The problem
with this approach is that the necessary standby quantity of each critical
asset depends on the systems and processes that:
Identify the medical need
Identify the resources to address the need in a timely
Move the resources expeditiously to locations of patient
need (as applicable)
Manage and support the resources to their absolute maximum
In other words, fewer standby resources are necessary if
systems are in place to maximize the abilities of existing operational
resources. Moreover, the integration of additional resources (whether standby,
mutual aid, State or Federal aid) is difficult without adequate management
systems. Thus, medical surge capacity is primarily about the systems and
processes that influence specific asset quantity.
Basic example: If a hospital wishes to have the capacity to
medically manage 10 additional patients on respirators, it could buy, store,
and maintain 10 respirators. This would provide an important component of that
capacity (other critical care equipment and staff would also be needed), but it
would also be very expensive for the facility. If the hospital establishes a
mutual aid and/or cooperative agreement with regional hospitals, it might be
able to rely on neighboring hospitals to loan respirators and credentialed
staff and, therefore, might need to invest in only a few standby items (e.g.,
extra critical care beds), minimizing purchase and maintenance of expensive
equipment that generate no income except during rare emergency situations.” (H)
Today, Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) are a crucial component
of many hospitals. Implementing a RRT
was one of the six strategies that defined the Institute for Healthcare
Improvement (IHI) 100,000 Lives campaign.
Most RRTs consist of critical care nurses, but they can also include
respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and physicians.
Research consistently shows that patients exhibit signs and
symptoms of deterioration for several hours prior to a code. These symptoms include changes in vital
signs, mental status, and lab markers. The goal of a RRT is to intervene
upstream from a potential code. They
reach the patient before deterioration turns into crisis. This is different than a code blue team that
typically responds to a patient that has already decompensated to cardiac
Historically, most hospitals relied on busy bedside nurses
to identify crashing patients and call for rapid response. With 49 states having no limits on the number
of patients assigned per nurse, many medical-surgical ward nurses are caring
for 6 or more patients per shift.
Placing this additional responsibility on their already over-flowing
plate is challenging at best. Providing
a RRT empowers bedside nurses to trigger an escalation of care earlier and
“… even the U.S. is disturbingly vulnerable—and in some
respects is becoming quickly more so. It depends on a just-in-time medical
economy, in which stockpiles are limited and even key items are made to order.
Most of the intravenous bags used in the country are manufactured in Puerto
Rico, so when Hurricane Maria devastated the island last September, the bags
fell in short supply. Some hospitals were forced to inject saline with
syringes—and so syringe supplies started running low too. The most common
lifesaving drugs all depend on long supply chains that include India and
China—chains that would likely break in a severe pandemic. “Each year, the
system gets leaner and leaner,” says Michael Osterholm, the director of the
Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of
Minnesota. “It doesn’t take much of a hiccup anymore to challenge it.”” (J)
“One hundred years ago, in 1918,
a strain of H1N1 flu swept the world. It might have originated in Haskell
County, Kansas, or in France or China—but soon it was everywhere. In two years,
it killed as many as 100 million people—5 percent of the world’s population,
and far more than the number who died in World War I. It killed not just the
very young, old, and sick, but also the strong and fit, bringing them down
through their own violent immune responses. It killed so quickly that hospitals
ran out of beds, cities ran out of coffins, and coroners could not meet the
demand for death certificates. It lowered Americans’ life expectancy by more
than a decade. “The flu resculpted human populations more radically than
anything since the Black Death,” Laura Spinney wrote in Pale Rider, her 2017
book about the pandemic. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in
history—a potent reminder of the threat posed by disease.” (K)
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Seasonal Flu, enter your email address at:
Over time JCMC was
designated as: a Regional Perinatal Center; Level II Trauma Center; Teaching
Hospital Cancer Program; a Children’s Hospital; and approved to start cardiac
surgery/ interventional cardiology. With these programs JCMC became a major
teaching affiliate of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a total replacement hospital
was opened on a new site in 2004.
cardiac surgery problems at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and North
Carolina Children’s Hospital are due, in part, to the disappearance of most state
CON regulations resulting in hospitals opening “trophy” services that lead to
low volume programs. Funding becomes a challenge.
ASSIGNMENT: What are the Lessons Learned from the Johns
Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and North Carolina Children’s Hospital
pediatric open cardiac surgery program failures? What are the regulatory
Family members were never told that Navy veteran Darryl
Young was in an irreversible vegetative state after his heart transplant last
year, and staff never offered hospice, other palliative care services or a Do
Not Resuscitate directive, ProPublica revealed.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, doctors were secretly recorded
discussing how Young needed to be aggressively cared for despite their belief
that he would never wake up or recover function, the ProPublica report said.” (H)
“The North Carolina
Children’s Hospital got a bit of good news last week from a state agency that
sent a team of investigators on-site for 11 days of questioning and review of
the pediatric heart surgery program.
The state Department of Health and Human Services says the
program currently is in compliance with U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
An external review board was tapped to evaluate the program
and new Quality and Safety reporting procedures were put in place.
The external review board has had one telephone conference
meeting, according to Alan Wolf, a spokesman for the health care system, and
has plans to meet in person soon.
Despite the state health department’s findings, the UNC
Health Care system has no plans to schedule those types of surgeries before the
external review is complete, according to Wolf.” (A)
“The families of two children who were paralyzed after heart
surgeries at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital will receive $26 million and
$12.75 million in settlements with the hospital, state records show.
Although the identities of the children are not public, the
records describing their cases match two of the patients featured in a Tampa
Bay Times investigation into the hospital’s troubled heart unit. Both families
were struggling with the costs of caring for a permanently disabled child with
no relief in sight.
A third family that lost a child after heart surgery will
In June, Johns Hopkins Health System CEO Kevin Sowers told the
Times that he and hospital leaders had reached out to the families of children
who died or were injured in the hospital’s heart surgery unit.
“We made a mistake, and we need to make sure we help support
these families and make it right,” he said… (B)
“UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill is on probation after the
system received preliminary denial of its accreditation.
Preliminary Denial of Accreditation is recommended when
there’s an immediate threat to health and safety, a submission of falsified
documents or misrepresented information, a lack of a required license, or
significant noncompliance with Joint Commission standards, according to the
“To be clear: There was no finding of any immediate threats
to patient health and safety,” UNC Health Care spokesman Alan Wolf said in an
The Joint Commission recently conducted the triennial
accreditation survey, when surveyors examined the main hospital in Chapel Hill.
UNC Health Care credited the slide in accreditation to new
standards by the Joint Commission. The hospital will remain on preliminary
denial of accreditation status until the hospital undergoes a new survey and
satisfies the requirements.
The hospital network says it has already put plans in place
to fix each problematic area…
UNC Health Care said the Joint Commission accepted its plans
of correction, and expects the validation survey to take place next week.” (C)
UNC Hospitals is one step closer to regaining its clean
reputation, but concerns remain.
After completing follow-up inspections, the Joint Commission
lifted its preliminary denial of UNC Hospitals’ accreditation and upgraded the
hospital to “accreditation with a follow-up survey.”
UNC Hospitals was originally placed on probation because it
failed to meet the suicide prevention standards of the Joint Commission…
Most of the serious problems revolved around the treatment
of mental health patients, particularly those at risk for suicide attempts or
for being abused and exploited. The Joint Commission demanded better management
of ligature risks — places where a patient could hang or choke themselves — and
better identification of potential victims of abuse.
The Joint Commission only recommends Preliminary Denial of
Accreditation when there’s an immediate threat to health and safety, a
submission of falsified documents or misrepresented information, a lack of a
required license, or significant noncompliance with Joint Commission standards…
The clean bill of accreditation means the Joint Commission
is satisfied with UNC Hospitals’ response to its performance issues. But the
hospitals will probably face added scrutiny.” (D)
A North Carolina children’s hospital that stopped performing
complex heart surgeries in recent months after high death rates were disclosed
may now resume the procedures, according to an advisory board that was
examining the hospital’s practices.
The board noted “significant investment and progress” had
been made at North Carolina Children’s Hospital while suggesting areas for
improvement, including increasing the number of surgeries performed, a factor
associated with better outcomes.
The external board made its recommendations in a six-page
report released on Tuesday by UNC Health Care, which runs the hospital and is
affiliated with the University of North Carolina…..
The advisory board did not seem to address conditions at the
hospital when doctors voiced concerns several years ago, but noted that “team
dynamics and interactions appear to be strong.” Recommendations it made to the
hospital’s board of directors included continuing to publicly report mortality
data; hiring a second full-time pediatric heart surgeon; and considering a
joint venture with another hospital to increase the volume of surgeries.
Concerns about the quality of pediatric heart surgery
programs have been disclosed at hospitals across the country, especially at
institutions with a smaller number of surgeries. Several programs have been
suspended or shut down; other hospitals have merged their programs with larger
ones to achieve more consistent results.
The advisory board was composed of three doctors from
outside institutions: Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio; the
University of Michigan School of Medicine; and Children’s Hospital of
Two doctors leading UNC’s pediatric heart program previously
worked at two of those institutions: Dr. Timothy Hoffman, chief of pediatric
cardiology, came to UNC from Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. Mahesh Sharma,
chief pediatric cardiac surgeon, joined UNC from Children’s Hospital of
“The News & Observer reports the outside review board’s
report was announced Tuesday. It noted ongoing improvements in the unit, though
it advised the hospital to consider if patients with complex heart problems
along with additional illnesses should be referred to other hospitals.” (F)
“Rumors floated around a children’s heart surgery unit in a
major hospital of a major city. Babies operated on for complex heart problems
were dying, and dying at rates far higher than those of comparable hospitals.
Doctors and cardiologists feared, even avoided, referring young babies for
surgery at the unit — a culture of silence surrounding it all…
But this is not UNC. And this is not 2019. This was thirty
years ago at Bristol Royal Infirmary, the flagship hospital of Bristol, a city
of about 500,000, in the United Kingdom.
“It would be reassuring to believe that it could not happen
again,” wrote Sir Ian Kennedy, chair of the public inquiry into the tragedy
that claimed the lives of dozens of babies at Bristol. But he didn’t sound
particularly reassured, and sadly his doubt has been borne out. It has happened
The parallels between the two scandals are uncanny. At both
hospitals, the cardiac surgery for very young babies was malfunctioning, and
babies were dying at appalling rates. At both hospitals a culture of silence
surrounded a growing sense among staff that something was going
And at both hospitals it took outsiders to blow the whistle:
at UNC someone leaked recordings of the conversations held by a group of
concerned cardiologists (doctors who refer patients to cardiac surgery) in June
2016 to the New York Times. Dr Kevin Kelly, leader of the children’s hospital
at UNC, had convened the meeting to discuss the “crisis.” “When you walk out of
here,” he says in the recordings, “stop talking about it outside of this room.”
At Bristol thirty years ago, a young new anesthetist named
Stephen Bolsin grew concerned about eight-hour operations instead taking
twelve. He began to collect data on the outcomes of babies at the unit. When he
sensed the numbers didn’t look good, he took his concerns to the head of the
unit, surgeon James Wisheart, who shut him down.
When Bolsin went over his head
to the hospital manager, Wisheart got wind of this breach in the strict medical
hierarchy and said this amazing – and terrifyingly similar – thing: “If you
wish to remain in Bristol you should not disclose the results of pediatric
cardiac surgery to people outside the unit ever again.”” (G)
PART 1. Brand names don’t always signify the highest quality
“Sandra Vázquez paced
the heart unit at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
Her 5-month-old son, Sebastián Vixtha, lay unconscious in
his hospital crib, breathing faintly through a tube. Two surgeries to fix his
heart had failed, even the one that was supposed to be straightforward.
Vázquez saw another mom in the room next door crying. Her
baby was also in bad shape.
Down the hall, 4-month-old Leslie Lugo had developed a serious
infection in the surgical incision that snaked down her chest. Her parents
argued with the doctors. They didn’t believe the hospital room had been kept
By the end of the week, all three babies would die…
The internationally renowned Johns Hopkins had taken over
the St. Petersburg All Children’s Hospital six years earlier and vowed to
transform its pediatric heart surgery unit into one of the nation’s best.
Instead, the program got worse and worse until children were
dying at a stunning rate, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found.
Nearly one in 10 patients died last year. The mortality
rate, suddenly the highest in Florida, had tripled since 2015…
Times reporters spent a year examining the All Children’s
Heart Institute – a small, but important division of the larger hospital
devoted to caring for children born with heart defects…
They discovered a program beset with problems that were
whispered about in heart surgery circles but hidden from the public.
Among the findings:
All Children’s surgeons made serious mistakes, and their
procedures went wrong in unusual ways. They lost needles in at least two
infants’ chests. Sutures burst. Infections mounted. Patches designed to cover
holes in tiny hearts failed.
Johns Hopkins’ handpicked administrators disregarded safety
concerns the program’s staff had raised as early as 2015. It wasn’t until early
2017 that All Children’s stopped performing the most complex procedures. And it
wasn’t until late that year that it pulled one of its main surgeons from the
Even after the hospital stopped the most complex procedures,
children continued to suffer. A doctor told Cash Beni-King’s parents his
operation would be easy. His mother and father imagined him growing up, playing
football. Instead multiple surgeries failed, and he died.
In just a year and a half, at least 11 patients died after
operations by the hospital’s two principal heart surgeons. The 2017 death rate
was the highest any Florida pediatric heart program had seen in the last decade.
Parents were kept in the dark about the institute’s
troubles, including some that affected their children’s care. Leslie Lugo’s
family didn’t know she caught pneumonia in the hospital until they read her
autopsy report. The parents of another child didn’t learn a surgical needle was
left inside their baby until after she was sent home.
The Times presented its findings to hospital leaders in a
series of memos early this month. They declined interview requests and did not
make the institute’s doctors available to comment.
In a statement, All Children’s did not dispute the Times’
reporting. The hospital said it halted all pediatric heart surgeries in October
and is conducting a review of the program.
“Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is defined by our
commitment to patient safety and providing the highest quality care possible to
the children and families we serve,” the hospital wrote. “An important part of
that commitment is a willingness to learn.” (G)
The top three leaders of Johns Hopkins All Children’s
Hospital in Florida resigned Tuesday following a Tampa Bay Times investigation
that revealed increasing mortality rates among heart surgery patients.
The resignations from the 259-bed teaching hospital in St.
Petersburg included CEO Jonathan Ellen, M.D., and Vice President Jackie Crain,
as well as Jeffrey Jacobs, M.D., who is the heart institute’s deputy director,
the Tampa Bay Times reported. Paul Colombani, M.D., stepped down as chairman of
the department of surgery but will continue working in a clinical capacity, a
statement from the health system said…
Johns Hopkins, which owns and operates the hospital, said it
would install Kevin Sowers, who is president of the Johns Hopkins Health System
and executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine, to lead the hospital in
a temporary capacity while a plan for interim leadership is put into place.
Johns Hopkins’ board also said it commissioned an external
review to examine the heart surgery program and said it would share its lessons
from the review to help hospitals around the country avoid the same mistakes.
The moves come following the Tampa Bay Times investigation
that highlighted a growing number of heart surgery deaths at the hospital amid
warnings about safety from staffers that went unheeded. (H)
“Three additional senior administrators have left Johns
Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in the wake of a Tampa Bay Times investigation
into high mortality rates at the hospital’s Heart Institute, the hospital
A total of six senior officials have left since the Times
report, including the hospital’s CEO, three vice presidents and two surgeons
who held leadership roles at the Heart Institute. A seventh official stepped
down as chairman of the surgery department but remained employed at the
hospital as a doctor.
The resignations announced Wednesday included vice
presidents Dr. Brigitta Mueller, the hospital’s chief patient safety officer,
and Sylvia Ameen, who oversaw culture and employee engagement and served as the
hospital’s chief spokeswoman.
The hospital also said Dr. Gerhard Ziemer, who started as
the Heart Institute’s new director and chief of cardiovascular surgery in
October, would leave the hospital. The hospital never publicly announced Ziemer
had been hired, and he had not yet obtained his Florida medical license when
the Times investigation was published at the end of November. At that point,
the hospital said the Heart Institute had already stopped performing surgeries.
Sowers also announced that Johns Hopkins had hired external
experts to develop a plan to restart heart surgeries at All Children’s.
That is a separate effort from an external review of the
problems in the Heart Institute, which Johns Hopkins announced its board had
commissioned last month, spokeswoman Kim Hoppe said…
Johns Hopkins is one of the most prestigious brands in
medicine and is internationally renowned for developing innovative patient
safety protocols that are used at hospitals across the world. But last weekend,
the Times published a story detailing a series of safety problems at hospitals
across its network. In response, the health system pledged to “do better.” (I)
“The Johns Hopkins Medicine Board of Trustees has appointed
a former federal prosecutor to lead its investigation into the Johns Hopkins
All Children’s Hospital’s heart surgery unit, the health system announced late
F. Joseph Warin, of the global law firm Gibson Dunn, and his
team will review the high mortality rates and other problems at the hospital’s
Heart Institute and report back to a special committee of the board of trustees
by May, the health system said.
Once the review is complete, the health system said it would
also name an independent monitor at All Children’s to “make sure that the
hospital is being held accountable for taking corrective action where
The announcement was accompanied by a video of Johns Hopkins
Health System president Kevin Sowers, who acknowledged for the first time that
the hospital had been warned about problems by frontline workers.
“I know personally that many of you courageously spoke out
when you had concerns but were ignored or turned away,” he said. “That behavior
is unacceptable and will not be tolerated going forward.”
Sowers, who is also interim president at All Children’s, said
he hoped to meet with the families of patients affected by problems in the
Heart Institute in the coming days to share his “profound sadness for the
failures of care they experienced.” (J)
“State and federal
inspectors descended on Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital this week,
following sharp calls for an investigation into problems in the hospital’s
heart surgery unit, the Tampa Bay Times has learned.
The scope of the inspection is unclear. But hospital
regulators had been criticized in recent weeks for their lax response to early
signs of an increase in mortality at the hospital’s Heart Institute…
State and federal regulators knew the institute was having
problems months earlier. In April, the hospital’s CEO told the Times that the
institute had “challenges” that led to an uptick in mortality, and acknowledged
the hospital had left surgical needles inside two children.
In May, state regulators cited the hospital for not properly
reporting two medical mistakes, which is required by state law. Days later, a
spokeswoman for the federal agency told the Times that it would perform its own
But state regulators didn’t fine the hospital, and
overlooked several subsequent warnings that its surgical results had been poor.
And federal inspectors later changed course and decided not
to undertake a comprehensive review of the heart surgery program, the Times
reported last month. One reason was that state inspectors hadn’t found any
violations of federal rules, a spokeswoman said. Another was that a nonprofit
hospital accreditor was due to perform a scheduled review.” (L)
showcases the promise of a much-touted but little understood collaboration in
health care: alliances between community hospitals and some of the nation’s biggest
and most respected institutions.
For prospective patients, it can be hard to assess what
these relationships actually mean – and whether they matter.
Leah Binder, president and chief executive of the Leapfrog
Group, a Washington-based patient safety organization that grades hospitals
based on data involving medical errors and best practices, cautions that
affiliation with a famous name is not a guarantee of quality.
To expand their reach, flagship hospitals including Mayo,
the Cleveland Clinic and Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center have signed
affiliation agreements with smaller hospitals around the country. These
agreements, which can involve different levels of clinical integration,
typically grant community hospitals access to experts and specialized services
at the larger hospitals while allowing them to remain independently owned and
operated. For community hospitals, a primary goal of the brand-name affiliation
is stemming the loss of patients to local competitors…
In some cases, large hospital systems opt for a different
approach, largely involving acquisition. Johns Hopkins acquired Sibley Memorial
and Suburban hospitals in the Washington, D.C., area, along with All Children’s
Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla. The latter was re-christened Johns Hopkins All
Children’s Hospital in 2016…
Although affiliation agreements differ, many involve payment
of an annual fee by smaller hospitals. Officials at Mayo and MD Anderson
declined to reveal the amount, as did executives at several affiliates.
Contracts with Mayo must be renewed annually, while some with MD Anderson
exceed five years…
“It is not the Mayo Clinic,” said Dr. David Hayes, medical
director of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, which was launched in 2011. “It is a
Mayo clinic affiliate.”
Of the 250 U.S. hospitals or health systems that have
expressed serious interest in joining Mayo’s network, 34 have become members.
For patients considering a hospital that has such an
affiliation, Binder advises checking ratings from a variety of sources, among
them Leapfrog, Medicare and Consumer Reports, and not just relying on
“In theory, it can be very helpful,” Binder said of such
alliances. “The problem is that theory and reality don’t always come together
in health care.”
Case in point: Hopkins’ All Children’s has been besieged by
recent reports of catastrophic surgical injuries and errors and a spike in
deaths among pediatric heart patients since Hopkins took over. Hopkins’ chief
executive has apologized, more than a half-dozen top executives resigned and
Hopkins recently hired a former federal prosecutor to conduct a review of what
“For me and my family, I always look at the data,” Binder
said. “Nothing else matters if you’re not taken care of in a hospital, or you
have the best surgeon in the world and die from an infection.” ” (Q)
PART 2. June 1, 2019. “The situation that the New York Times
described in North Carolina parallels that at Johns Hopkins All Children’s
Hospital in St. Petersburg, which stopped performing heart surgeries after the
Tampa Bay Times reported on problems in the unit
“Tasha and Thomas
Jones sat beside their 2-year-old daughter as she lay in intensive care at
North Carolina Children’s Hospital. Skylar had just come out of heart surgery
and should recover well, her parents were told. But that night, she flatlined.
Doctors and nurses swarmed around her, performing chest compressions for nearly
an hour before putting the little girl on life support.
Five days later, in June 2016, the hospital’s pediatric
cardiologists gathered one floor below for what became a wrenching discussion.
Patients with complex conditions had been dying at higher-than-expected rates
in past years, some of the doctors suspected. Now, even children like Skylar,
undergoing less risky surgeries, seemed to fare poorly.
The cardiologists pressed their division chief about what
was happening at the hospital, part of the respected University of North
Carolina medical center in Chapel Hill, while struggling to decide if they
should continue to send patients to UNC for heart surgery…
That March, a newborn had died after muscles supporting a
valve in his heart appeared to have been damaged during surgery. At least two
patients undergoing low-risk surgeries had recently experienced complications.
In May, a baby girl with a complex heart condition died two weeks after her
operation. Two days later, Skylar went in for surgery.
In the doctors’ meeting, the chief of pediatric cardiology,
Dr. Timothy Hoffman, was blunt. “It’s a nightmare right now,” he said. “We are
in crisis, and everyone is aware of that.”
That comment and others – captured in secret audio
recordings provided to The New York Times – offer a rare, unfiltered look
inside a medical institution as physicians weighed their ethical obligations to
patients while their bosses also worried about harming the surgical program.
In meetings in 2016 and 2017, all nine cardiologists
expressed concerns about the program’s performance. The head of the hospital
and other leaders there were alarmed as well, according to the recordings. The
cardiologists – who diagnose and treat heart conditions but don’t perform
surgeries – could not pinpoint what might be going wrong in an intertwined
system involving surgeons, anesthesiologists, intensive care doctors and
support staff. But they discussed everything from inadequate resources to
misgivings about the chief pediatric cardiac surgeon to whether the hospital
was taking on patients it wasn’t equipped to handle. Several doctors began
referring more children elsewhere for surgery.
The heart specialists had been asking to review the
institution’s mortality statistics for cardiac surgery – information that most
other hospitals make public – but said they had not been able to get it for
several years. Last month, after repeated requests from The Times, UNC released
limited data showing that for four years through June 2017, it had a higher
death rate than nearly all of the 82 institutions nationwide that do publicly
The best option, Dr. Kelly said, was to combine UNC’s
surgery program with Duke’s. For years, physicians at both children’s hospitals
talked informally about joining forces, but nothing came of it. They were
“basically destroying each other’s capacity to be great,” Dr. Kelly said, by
running competing programs less than 15 miles apart. But even combining the
programs wasn’t an instant fix: It would take at least a year and a half, he
“The situation that the New York Times described in North
Carolina parallels that at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St.
Petersburg, which stopped performing heart surgeries after the Tampa Bay Times
reported on problems in the unit…
UNC Health Care only made some of its death rate data public
to the New York Times after numerous requests from the newsroom. The statistics
showed that UNC’s children’s heart surgery program had one of the highest
four-year death rates in the country…
UNC Health Care told the New York Times that the physicians’
concerns had been handled appropriately.
After the New York Times started reporting, the hospital
ramped up efforts to find a temporary pediatric heart surgeon and reached out
to families whose children had died or had unusual complications to discuss
The turmoil at UNC underscores concerns about the quality
and consistency of care provided by dozens of pediatric heart surgery programs
across the country. Each year in the United States about 40,000 babies are born
with heart defects; about 10,000 are likely to need surgery or other procedures
before their first birthday.
The best outcomes for patients with complex heart problems
correlate with hospitals that perform a high volume of surgeries – several
hundred a year – studies show. But a proliferation of the surgery programs has
made it difficult for many institutions, including UNC, to reach those numbers:
The North Carolina hospital does about 100 to 150 a year. Lower numbers can leave
surgeons and staff at some hospitals with insufficient experience and resources
to achieve better results, researchers have found.
“We can do better. And it’s not that hard to do better,”
said Dr. Carl Backer, former president of the Congenital Heart Surgeons’
Society, who practices at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “We don’t have
to build new hospitals. We don’t have to build new ICUs. We just need to move
patients to more appropriate centers.”
Studies show that the best outcomes for patients with
complex heart problems correlate with hospitals that do a higher volume of
surgeries – several hundred a year.
At least five pediatric heart surgery programs across the
country were suspended or shut down in the last decade after questions were
raised about their performance; a Florida institution run by the prestigious
Johns Hopkins medical system stopped operations after reporting by The Tampa
Bay Times in 2018. At least a half-dozen hospitals have merged their programs
with larger ones to achieve more consistent results. And more institutions are
considering such partnerships.” (E)
“North Carolina’s secretary of health on Friday called for
an investigation into a hospital where doctors had suspected children with
complex heart conditions had been dying at higher than expected rates after
undergoing heart surgery.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, the secretary, said in a statement that a
team from the state’s division of health service regulation would work with
federal regulators to conduct a “thorough investigation” into events that
occurred in 2016 and 2017 at North Carolina Children’s Hospital, part of the
University of North Carolina medical center in Chapel Hill…
The investigation is in response to an article published by
The New York Times on Thursday, which gave a detailed look inside the medical
institution as cardiologists grappled with whether to keep sending their young
patients there for surgery.” (H)
PART 3. Hopkins All Children’s Hospital/ North Carolina
Children’s – pediatric cardiac surgery debacles.
“Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has begun
implementing some of the dozens of recommendations from a law firm hired to
identify deficiencies at the hospital and its parent organization, Johns
Hopkins Medicine, in the wake of high death rates in the St. Petersburg
hospital’s pediatric cardiology program…
The recommendations focus on four key areas, said Dr. Kevin
Sowers, president of Johns Hopkins Health System and executive vice president
of Johns Hopkins Medicine.
He outlined those four areas in a video posted online. They
are: strengthen the management and culture at Johns Hopkins All Children’s
Hospital; improve processes for evaluating patient clinical quality and safety;
clarify and streamline the reporting structure between the six Johns Hopkins Hospitals
and the Johns Hopkins Health System; and review the ways in which the boards of
Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and Johns Hopkins Medicine should advance
their governance responsibilities…
…In the coming weeks, the board of Johns Hopkins Medicine
will appoint a monitor to track and report regularly back to them on the
hospital’s progress.” (A)
“The recommendations for improvement include:
Prioritize a culture of absolute commitment to patient
safety and of raising and addressing problems and concerns, including
throughout the process of hiring and evaluating senior executives
Give physician leaders a stronger voice, create a more
robust check-and-balance on the president
Better educate staff and faculty about JHM’s commitment to transparency
and a culture of “see something, say something” and to improve channels to
submit complaints and provide for independent review
Separate the medical staff office responsibilities from the
patient safety and quality department responsibilities, which previously were
overseen by a single vice president of medical affairs…
In the coming weeks, the board of Johns Hopkins medicine
will appoint an external monitor to track and report back regularly to them on
the hospital’s progress,” he said.
The initial focus will be on the St. Petersburg hospital, a
team will go to the other five hospitals in the network to ensure the changes
are taking place.” (B)
“The review recommended a commitment to patient safety and
said the “see something, say something” culture is a vital part of that.
The hospital published the report on its website along with
a video of Sowers talking about the results.
“Above all, we must work each and every day to support a
culture in which each of us is supported and empowered to speak up and speak
out,” Sowers said in the video.
He provided a toll free number where employees can
anonymously report any issues: 1-844-SPEAK2US.” (C)
surgery departments across Florida will soon be subject to more oversight.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill late Tuesday that will let
physician experts visit struggling programs and make recommendations for
The bill signed into law Tuesday makes significant changes.
It lets a committee called the Pediatric Cardiac Technical
Advisory Panel appoint physician experts to visit Florida’s 10 children’s heart
surgery programs. They will be able to examine surgical results, review death
reports, inspect the facilities and interview employees.
Dr. David Nykanen, the chairman of the advisory panel and a
pediatric cardiologist at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando,
called site visits “crucially important,” especially when departments are
He said visits could start within the next six months…
The hospital has not yet resumed heart surgeries. The
results of a review commissioned by the Johns Hopkins Medicine board are
expected soon.” (E)
“A state regulatory process that limited the number of
hospitals and some specialty services like transplant programs are going away
on July 1.
Despite attempts by two hospitals, Central Florida doesn’t
have a pediatric heart transplant program. But that could change in the coming
years because a state regulatory process that limited the number of hospitals
and some specialty services like transplants is going away on July 1.
For nearly five decades, the program known as certificate of
need has required hospitals to get authorization from the state before building
new facilities or offering new or expanded services — a complicated process
that’s costly, includes reams of paperwork and potential challenges from
competitors, and can take months or years…
Starting July 1, general hospitals are no longer required to
obtain a certificate of need to build a facility or to start services such as
pediatric and adult open heart surgery, organ transplant programs, neonatal
intensive care units and rehab programs…
The second part of the bill goes into effect on July 1,
2021, when the certificate of need requirement will be eliminated for certain
specialty hospitals such as children’s and women’s hospitals, rehab hospitals,
psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals and hospitals that offer intensive
residential treatment services for children.” (F)
“Cohen announced late last week that she had assembled a
team from the state Division of Health Service Regulation, which licenses and
oversees health care facilities, to “conduct a thorough investigation into
these events.” They are coordinating with the U.S. Centers for Medicare &
Medicaid Services, a federal oversight agency…
Kelly Haight Connor, a spokeswoman for the state health
department, said Monday it’s difficult to know how long an investigation will
take. In other DHHS investigations, a team often interviews a range of people,
from caregivers, staff and those in their care.
Wesley Burks, CEO of UNC Health Care since December 2018 and
dean of the UNC School of Medicine, sent a five-paragraph email to staff on May
30 at 10:16 a.m. and attached the Times’ article he described as “critical of
UNC Medical Center’s pediatric congenital heart surgery program.”
“While this program
faced culture challenges in the 2016-2017 timeframe, we believe the Times’
criticism is overstated and does not consider the quality improvements we’ve
made within this program over many years,” Burks wrote in the email. “As the
State’s leading public hospital, UNC Medical Center often gets the most complex
and serious cases in its pediatric congenital heart program. For many of these
very sick children, we are often parents’ last hope…
On Monday, UNC Health Care spokesman Phil Bridges released a
“timeline of Continuous Quality Improvement within the program over the past 10
The timeline mentions a four-month period from June to
September in 2016 in which “concerns and allegations against specific
individuals in the Congenital Heart Program” were “independently investigated
and reviewed” by the dean’s office and the chief medical officer.
“Allegations of misconduct and concerns determined to be
unfounded,” the document states, adding “allegations against specific
individuals and results of the investigations constitute personnel records,
which may not be disclosed,” citing public records law.
An ongoing initiative, according to the document, calls for
a Department of Pediatrics review after every death in the Pediatric Intensive
Care Unit, including pediatric cardiac patients, to assess the care provided
and evaluate any opportunities for improvement.” (G)
“UNC Health Care officials announced Monday they are halting
the most complex pediatric heart surgeries following a report that raised
serious safety concerns over a number of child deaths at UNC Children’s
Officials from UNC HealthCare said in a statement they plan
to create an advisory board of external medical experts and “pause the most
complex heart surgeries” until that board and regulatory agencies review the
The external advisory board, which is expected to have
members from the University of Southern California, the University of Michigan,
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Nationwide Children’s Hospital,
will examine the efficacy of the UNC Children’s Hospital pediatric heart
surgery program and make recommendations for improvement. The group will report
to the UNC Health Care Board of Directors.
UNC Healthcare officials said they are also developing a new
structure to support internal hospital reporting and plan to publicly release
Society for Thoracic Surgeons’ (STS) patient outcome data, make a $10 million
investment in new technology and bring in new specialists as part of their
efforts to “restore confidence” in its pediatric heart program.
“Our pediatric heart program cares for very sick children
with incredibly complex medical problems, and our clinical team works
tirelessly to help those patients return to normal, healthy and productive
lives,” Wesley Burks, M.D., CEO of UNC Health Care said in a statement. “We
grieve with families anytime there is a negative outcome and we constantly push
to learn from those tragic instances.
UNC Health Care’s board also endorsed the creation of a
pediatric heart surgery family advisory council to provide a voice for
patients, family members and staff directly to hospital leadership…
Most recently, Johns Hopkins’ All Children’s Hospital came
under fire for increasing mortality rates among heart surgery patients at the
259-bed hospital following a Tampa Bay Times investigation. Top leaders of that
hospital ultimately resigned and Johns Hopkins’ board also said it commissioned
an external review to examine the heart surgery program.
In 2015, St. Mary’s Medical Center in Florida closed it’s
pediatric heart surgery program after a CNN investigation revealed it had a
mortality rate of more than three times the national average. In 2009,
Massachusetts General Hospital suspended its pediatric surgery program in the
wake of surgical errors.” (H)
Hospital should merge its pediatric heart surgery program with the same work
being done at Duke Health’s Children’s Hospital, just 10 miles away. A common
program would greatly enhance the treatment of children and babies in need of
complex heart surgery.
As it is, UNC Children’s does 100 to 150 pediatric heart
surgeries a year, a rate considered low volume. That makes it harder to recruit
and retain surgeons and limits surgeons ability to hone their skills. It also
makes it harder to maintain the other parts of the program, cardiologists,
anesthesiologists and staff for a pediatric heart intensive care unit.
East Carolina University’s hospital faced similar challenges
as it provided pediatric heart surgery at a low-volume level of 50 to 75
surgeries a year. Eighteen months ago, ECU started sending all its pediatric
heart surgery patients to Duke. The change helped boost Duke’s volume to where
it has done more than 800 surgeries in 18 months. During the same period, Duke
has posted a 1 percent mortality rate, despite a caseload in which a third of
the operations are high risk.
Unfortunately, UNC Children’s Hospital appears uninterested
in combining resources despite overtures from Duke. In a statement Thursday,
the hospital said, “While there have been discussions with Duke Health over the
years about ways to collaborate across various pediatric specialties, there are
no plans to combine our programs. Patients in this region benefit from having
two world-class medical institutions located so close together. Our clinicians
frequently collaborate with colleagues at Duke. We sometimes transfer patients
to them and vice versa.
UNC Children’s would prefer to run its own pediatric heart
surgery program as a matter of institutional pride and money — the most complex
operations can cost a half-million dollars. But pride and money aren’t — or
shouldn’t be — the primary concerns. What matters most is how to get the best
care for children in this highly specialized and high-stakes area of medicine.
To do that, North Carolina’s best hospitals should combine their resources and
Typically, with complex medical procedures, outcomes are strongly
correlated with volume. That means that if a program does more procedures, it
has more expertise, the healthcare team has more experience working together —
and as a result, patients have better results. Larger programs often have
better equipment and more personnel. Sadly, the pediatric surgery program at
North Carolina Children’s Hospital was a low-volume center…
Powerful forces stand in opposition to the closure of
low-volume centers. Low-volume centers are attractive because they are
geographically convenient; patients do not have to travel long distances for
their care. Some insurance coverage is regionally-restricted, and families
without resources are unable to access high-volume centers. Low-volume centers
are often staffed by entrepreneurial physicians who don’t want restrictions on
their right to practice medicine. And their goals are often closely aligned
with those of local political officials, who would like to imagine that
low-volume programs can replicate the results at large medical centers. Perhaps
most importantly, hospital administrators at low-volume centers do not wish to
see their revenues slashed — and their leadership positions eliminated.
So the problem of decentralized medicine and low-volume
centers is getting worse, not better. To an increasing degree, a larger and
larger proportion of specialized procedures in the United States are being done
at low-volume centers…” (N)
E.In North Carolina, the New York Times reveals another
heart surgery program in trouble, by Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi,
In 2016 The World Health Organization identified the top 8
emerging diseases that were likely to cause severe outbreaks in the near
future: Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever; Ebola; Marburg; Lassa Fever; MERS;
SARS; Nipah; and Rift Valley fever. (Q)
The Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo is
breaching its contiguous borders with South Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzinia; it
also borders four other countries.
“…If the purse
strings tighten, however, and the WHO cannot continue its work, the outbreak
will almost certainly pick up speed. It’s only a matter of time until the virus
There are a few possible explanations for this (funding)
shortcoming. The first is unspoken, but (is) true of the world’s largest
outbreak of the disease in West Africa — Ebola has not yet spread to rich
Are we ready?
ASSIGNMENT: As Ebola spreads from Congo to
contiguous countries In Africa, is the United States prepared for Ebola and
other known and unknown emerging viruses?
“It sounds like an improbable fiction: a virulent flu
pandemic, source unknown, spreads across the world in 36 hours, killing up to
80 million people, sparking panic, destabilising national security and slicing
chunks off the world’s economy.
But a group of prominent international experts has issued a
stark warning: such a scenario is entirely plausible and efforts by governments
to prepare for it are “grossly insufficient”.
The first annual report by the Global Preparedness
Monitoring Board, an independent group of 15 experts convened by the World Bank
and WHO after the first Ebola crisis, describes the threat of a pandemic
spreading around the world, potentially killing tens of millions of people, as
“a real one”.
There are “increasingly dire risks” of epidemics, yet the
world remained unprepared, the report said. It warned epidemic-prone diseases
such as Ebola, influenza and Sars are increasingly difficult to manage in the
face of increasing conflict, fragile states and rising migration…
measles – the most severe disease outbreaks usually occur in the places with
the weakest health systems,”.. “As leaders of nations, communities and
international agencies, we must take responsibility for emergency preparedness,
and heed the lessons these outbreaks are teaching us. We have to ‘fix the roof
before the rain comes.’” (A)
“On Wednesday (July 17), the World Health Organization
declared the Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo a global health
A WHO committee that decided the outbreak would be a PHEIC
lays out specific recommendations in a statement, including keeping borders
open and not placing restrictions on trade and travel. The members call for a
“coordinated international response” and for neighboring countries to work with
partners to prepare for detecting and managing imported cases.
The emergency committee writes that, nearly a year into the
outbreak, “there are worrying signs of possible extension of the epidemic.”
Robert Steffen, who chaired the group, tells STAT that WHO is now declaring a
PHEIC in part because disease transmission in the DRC city of Beni has
increased, there is a risk to response workers’ safety, and that the disease is
still actively transmitted in large geographical areas of the country.” (B)
“South Sudan has stepped up surveillance along its porous
southern border after an Ebola case was detected just inside DR Congo, an
health official in Juba told AFP Wednesday…
It is the closest Ebola is known to have come to South Sudan
since a major outbreak began in Congo last August.
Dr Pinyi Nyimol, the director general of South Sudan’s
Disease Control and Emergency Response Centre, said a team of reinforcements
had been sent to the region to bolster surveillance after the case was
“We are very worried because it is coming nearer, and
people are on the move so contact (with Ebola) could cross to South
Sudan,” he told AFP.” (C)
“Uganda’s ministry of health announced late on Thursday a
second Ebola outbreak in the western district of Kasese, about 472 km from the
capital Kampala, following an imported case from the neighboring Democratic
Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Joyce Moriku Kaducu, minister of state for primary health
care, said in a statement that a 9 year-old female Congolese who entered the
country with her mother on Wednesday through the Mpondwe border to seek medical
care at Bwera Hospital has tested positive of the deadly virus.
The minister said the child was identified by the point of
entry screening team with symptoms of high fever, body weakness, rash, and
unexplained mouth bleeding…
“Since the child was identified in Uganda at the point
of entry, there are no contacts in Uganda,” she said…
In June, Uganda confirmed three index cases of the highly
contagious disease who visited the neighboring DRC. The outbreak was declared
finished after 42 days of close monitoring.” (D)
Congolese girl who tested positive for Ebola in neighbouring Uganda has died of
the disease, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that the current
outbreak was approaching the grim milestone of 3,000 cases and 2,000 deaths.
Her death makes her the fourth case to cross into Uganda
amid the continuing struggle to contain the deadly outbreak.” (E)
The World Health Organization issued an extraordinary
statement Saturday raising concerns about possible unreported Ebola cases in
Tanzania and urging the country to provide patient samples for testing at an
The statement relates to a Tanzanian doctor who died Sept. 8
after returning to her country from Uganda; she reportedly had Ebola-like
symptoms. Several contacts of the woman became sick, though Tanzanian
authorities have insisted they tested negative for Ebola.
But the country has not shared the tests so they can be
validated at an outside laboratory, as suggested under the International Health
Regulations, a treaty designed to protect the world from spread of infectious
It is highly unusual for the WHO, which normally operates
through more diplomatic means, to publicly reveal that a member country is
stymying an important disease investigation.
“The presumption is
that if all the tests really have been negative, then there is no reason for
Tanzania not to submit those samples for secondary testing and verification,”
Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told STAT…”
“The statement comes hard on the heels of similar remarks by
the US health secretary, Alex Azar, last week amid mounting concern that
Tanzania may be in breach of its international commitments to share critical
data relating to global health security.
Although Tanzania has insisted that its own tests showed
negative for the Ebola virus, international health organisations have raised
the alarm about not being given access to samples.
According to unconfirmed reports, the woman, in her mid-30s,
had been conducting health research and had visited several health facilities
in central Uganda before her death, after showing symptoms of a serious febrile
The patient, who died on 8 September, had not been to the
Democratic Republic of the Congo or had contact with Ebola cases, leading
international health monitoring organisations to initially rule out the Ebola
However, as several more reported cases emerged, including
the initial patient’s sister, Tanzania’s response to the issue has prompted
alarm about the country’s willingness to share either its test results or allow
secondary testing of samples.
Azar voiced his own criticism during a visit to Uganda,
telling reporters that he and others are “very concerned” as he urged
Tanzania’s government to share laboratory results regarding the case.” (G)
A team of specialists at Emory University will never forget
Aug. 2, 2014. That’s the day Kent Brantley, an American missionary based in
Liberia, became the first of four patients with the Ebola virus to arrive at
its Atlanta facility.
The eyes of the world watched as the Serious Communicable
Diseases Unit — in hazmat suits, successfully treated Brantley and three
other patients with the highly infectious disease.
The team at Emory is innovating on what they learned five
years ago to help treat the disease now. “ (H)
“This fall, the University of Nebraska Medical Center is
scheduled to open a cutting-edge center for training, simulation and quarantine
to prepare federal workers to address highly infectious diseases. Creation of
the National Center for Health Security and Biopreparedness is timely and
important, given the troubling new Ebola outbreak in Africa.
As a result, the infectious disease initiative at UNMC and
clinical partner Nebraska Medicine is taking on particular importance. UNMC
received a $19.8 million federal grant for creation of the new biopreparedness
center. A team of infectious disease experts from UNMC and Nebraska Medicine
was in Uganda last year to train local health care workers in infection
response and control…
During 2014-15, the med center treated three Ebola patients
and monitored several others who were exposed but did not develop the disease.
On Dec. 29 last year, an American doctor who had been treating patients in the
Democratic Republic of Congo arrived in Omaha, where he completed the last 14
days of a 21-day monitoring period in UNMC’s biocontainment unit.” (I)
“During the outbreak five years ago, 56 hospitals across the
U.S. were designated Ebola treatment centers, or ETCs. The idea was to increase
national capacity to care for patients who contracted this highly infectious
disease. These hospitals are mostly clustered around major airports where
travelers from West Africa are likely to arrive, including Chicago’s O’Hare
International Airport. They were initially equipped with dedicated clinical
care resources, specialized infrastructure and trained staff to safely manage
and treat patients suspected or confirmed to have Ebola. Since its inception in
2014, fewer resources have been allocated to this hospital network. As a
result, the ETCs are having difficulty maintaining their
ability to respond to Ebola cases that may come again to the U.S., and
other infectious diseases that may follow.
Outbreaks are costly. Public health responses to Ebola,
Zika, MERS, SARS and other diseases cost tens of billions of dollars, much of
which can be avoided by taking preventive action. Congress can wait until Ebola
or some equally deadly infectious disease arrives in our country, overwhelms
state, local, tribal and territorial health care and public health capacity,
and threatens lives and then provide billions in emergency supplemental
funding. Or Congress can now recognize that these significant disease events
will continue to occur and proactively take steps to ensure we can respond by
creating a standing response fund.” (J)
“… In the past two years, the Trump administration has
dissolved the federal government’s biosecurity directorate, scaled back its
infectious disease prevention efforts, restricted development aid for countries
like Congo, made several attempts to rescind foreign aid, including for global
health, and pulled C.D.C. workers from Congo’s outbreak zones without a clear
plan to send them back.
The administration has also announced policies meant to
scare legal immigrants off public assistance programs, including for health
care, to which they are legally entitled. Such policies imperil everyone: The
more people who don’t have access to vaccines or antibiotics, the greater the
risk that an infectious disease will spread. That applies to diseases like
Ebola that might arrive on American shores from other countries, but it also
applies to diseases that are already here, like flu and measles. The only
reliable way for a country to protect itself from these threats is for it to
help other countries do the same.
The new medications for Ebola and tuberculosis are the
product of years of investment and careful work. That investment could continue
to pay off, but only if the United States and its partners around the world
increase their global health efforts, instead of shrinking away from them.” (K)
“I’m not a social scientist. I have zero data on which to
lean here. Someone who actually does this sort of research may conclude that
donor fatigue, or the financial straits some countries and most media outlets
currently face, or the turning inward that has accompanied the rise of populism
can explain why this Ebola outbreak isn’t as front burner an issue as it would
have been a decade ago, why organizations struggling to stop it are finding
fewer donors writing smaller checks.
At last month’s G20 summit in Japan, high-income countries,
including the United States, declared their full support for the Ebola
response. They must now make good on that promise to the WHO. If countries
procrastinate, the world risks a repeat of the 2014–16 Ebola outbreak, in which
a slow response contributed to the loss of more than 11,300 lives in Africa and
a cost to taxpayers of more than $3 billion. The WHO needs just a fraction of
this to prevent a horrific repeat of history.” (N)
“A dispute between two major players in the epidemic
response — Doctors Without Borders and the W.H.O. — erupted on Monday, just as
the W.H.O. announced that a new vaccine, the second to be deployed, would be
introduced into the region.
On Monday, Doctors Without Borders accused the World Health
Organization of “rationing Ebola vaccines and hampering efforts to make them
quickly available to all who are at risk of infection.”
The W.H.O. quickly fired back, saying it was “not limiting
access to vaccine but rather implementing a strategy recommended by an
independent advisory body of experts and as agreed with the government of the
D.R.C. and partners.”..
The approach so far has relied on a traditional strategy
called ring vaccination that has been used successfully against other diseases.
It involves vaccinating everyone who has had contact with an infected person,
and all the contacts of those people, as well.
Officials from Doctors Without Borders say the strategy has
not worked in Congo, in part because it has not been possible to track down
every person who has come into contact with someone infected with Ebola, and
because some contacts have refused to cooperate. The group has urged more
widespread vaccination in regions where the disease is spreading, whether
people are known contacts or not.
But it says that instead the W.H.O. has doled out limited
amounts of vaccine. About 225,000 people have been vaccinated, but Doctors
Without Borders says 450,000 to 600,000 should have received the vaccine by
“The United States has warned its citizens to take extra
care when visiting Tanzania amid concerns over Ebola, adding to calls for the
East African country to share information about suspected cases of the deadly
U.S. travelers should “exercise increased caution”, the State Department said on Friday in an updated travel advisory that cited reports of “a probable Ebola-related death in Dar es Salaam”.” (P)
“The medical response to an Ebola infection is markedly more
challenging than many other diseases. It is one of the most deadly viruses with
a 60% – 90% mortality rate compared to 2% for measles.
The Ebola virus is extremely infectious and highly communicable. Treating the disease is resource intensive. Patients must be kept in isolation in specialised, well-designed treatment centres. Health care workers are at high risk of exposure and must take extreme precautions to examine patients. Breakdown in personal protection and infrastructure can be fatal. In fact, approximately 6% of the victims have been involved in looking after patients.” (R)
“Today (June 12, 2019) the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) is announcing activation of its Emergency Operations
Center (EOC) on Thursday, June 13, 2019, to support the inter-agency response
to the current Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
(DRC). The DRC outbreak is the second largest outbreak of Ebola ever recorded
and the largest outbreak in DRC’s history. The confirmation this week of three
travel-associated cases in Uganda further emphasizes the ongoing threat of this
outbreak. As part of the Administration’s whole-of-government effort, CDC
subject matter experts are working with the USAID Disaster Assistance Response
Team (DART) on the ground in the DRC and the American Embassy in Kinshasa to
support the Congolese and international response. The CDC’s EOC staff will
further enhance this effort.
CDC’s activation of the EOC at Level 3, the lowest level of activation, allows the agency to provide increased operational support for the response to meet the outbreak’s evolving challenges. CDC subject matter experts will continue to lead the CDC response with enhanced support from other CDC and EOC staff.” (S)
“…if we want to prevent Ebola cases evolving into wider
outbreaks, then we’ll need to move beyond reactionary responses and address the
factors that pave the way for epidemics.”..
To prevent future outbreaks, and to support the health of
local communities in the poorest parts of the world, we need to invest in
strengthening primary care and medical education. Otherwise, we will be here
again in another five years, once again having failed to learn from our
May 15, 2017
Lesson Learned from recent EBOLA and ZIKA episodes. We need
to designate REGIONAL EMERGING VIRUSES REFERRAL CENTERS (REVRCs).
1. There should not be an automatic default to just
designating Ebola Centers as REVRCs although there is likely to be significant
2. REVRCs should be academic medical centers with respected,
comprehensive infectious disease diagnostic/ treatment and research capabilities,
and rigorous infection control programs. They should also offer robust,
comprehensive perinatology, neonatology, and pediatric neurology services, with
the most sophisticated imaging capabilities (and emerging viruses “reading”
3. National leadership in clinical trials.
4. A track record of successful, large scale clinical Rapid
5. Organizational wherewithal to address intensive resource
Health care “disruption”
is well underway with most attention focused on paradigm-challenging players like:
Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase forming an independent health
care company for their employees; and the CVS Health Aetna Acquisition.
meantime, under-the-radar, Walmart’s strategy has been “based on the hospital
inefficiency in innovation and the business theory of bundling and unbundling
Now Walmart is leveraging its 1.5 million employees and 4,769 stores throughout the United States (90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart store) to launch its major health care initiatives.
the world’s biggest retailer, is moving deeper into the primary care and mental
health market, opening a new clinic called Walmart Health in Georgia.
recently updated its website with a link to Walmart Health, describing its
“newest location in Dallas, GA.” It also went online with the site
“Walmarthealth.com,” where patients can set up appointments. Walmart is testing
the concept with the initial clinic and could open more in the future,
according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because
the plans are confidential.
indicates that first appointments are available on Sept. 13, and the company
will offer primary care, dental, counseling, labs, X-rays and audiology, among
clinic will have on-site health providers, including nurses, to offer
consultations, immunizations and lab tests, people familiar with the matter
said. Added services include hearing tests, 60-minute counseling sessions and
vision tests.” (A)
new Georgia location opening comes as rivals CVS Health and Walgreens Boots
Alliance push further into outpatient healthcare services through various
models. The retailers see 10,000 baby boomers aging into Medicare coverage each
day and are also looking to fill emptying space in their brick and mortar
stores in the face of changing consumer shopping habits driven by online retail
giant Amazon, which is also exploring new ways to get into the healthcare
business but has yet to offer face-to-face personalized healthcare services for
CVS has said its new health hub concept store will reach four U.S. metropolitan
areas and 50 locations by the end of this year as part of a major expansion.
CVS said the HealthHub rollout will grow to 1,500 locations by the end of 2021,
or about 500 HealthHubs a year…
has a joint venture with the big health insurer Humana, opening senior clinics
in certain markets and the drugstore chain has a partnership with UnitedHealth
Group’s MedExpress urgent care subsidiary that has opened centers that include
X-rays and are staffed by physicians with a door connecting to an adjacent
says the new Walmart Health centers aren’t designed to increase foot traffic
and customer volume into their stores… Walmart has a different approach.
trying to solve problems for our customers,”… “We already have the volume. We
have the locations and the right people.” (B)
“Here we see
two rival strategies to marketing healthcare services. Walmart’s strategy is
based on price competition. Patients know what services will cost before they
walk into the physician’s office. Prices are rock-bottom. This directly
benefits patients, who will come again. Word will get out. In contrast, the
hospital’s strategy is based on billing insurance companies for services whose
prices are not revealed to patients in advance. Patients have no economic
incentive to seek lower-cost services elsewhere.
strategies reflect different organizational legal structures. Walmart is a profit-seeking
corporation. Profit-seeking enterprises whose business plans seek a growing
market, as Walmart’s business plan always has, are forced by price-sensitive
consumers to compete by cutting costs and then lowering prices. In contrast,
the hospital is a non-profit enterprise. By law, non-profit enterprises have no
owners. Employees may not profit directly from innovations that lead to higher
profits. In non-profits, everyone is salaried. There is therefore far less
incentive to cut costs and reduce prices.” (C)
moves deeper into primary care, the retail giant wants to ensure there is a
skilled healthcare workforce to fill critical roles in its 20 care clinics…
announced Tuesday its 1.5 million associates will be able to apply for one of
seven bachelor’s degrees and two career diplomas in health-related fields for
$1 a day through Live Better U, Walmart’s education benefit program…
degrees and certificate programs will provide Walmart employees with a path to
higher-paying careers in the growing healthcare field, Walmart executives said..
and wellness courses include career diploma programs for pharmacy technicians
and opticians through Penn Foster and seven bachelor’s degrees in health
science, health and wellness and healthcare management/administration offered
through Purdue University Global, Southern New Hampshire University, Bellevue
University and Wilmington University.
education program will arm employees with training to fill critical healthcare
roles across Walmart and Sam’s Club, which includes more than 5,000 retail
pharmacies, 3,000 vision centers and 400 hearing centers, the retailer said in
a release. The upskilled workforce will help the retailer make quality
healthcare more affordable and accessible to customers in the communities it
health care’s allure for Walmart? Medical services typically have higher
margins than store products. Since they are often provided in person, there is
more opportunity for consumers to pick up other items while visiting the store.
And usage is growing, especially as the United States’ population ages.
Walmart is eyeing both the Medicare and Medicaid markets since many of its
customers are senior citizens and lower-income Americans. Its prices are
generally lower than at pharmacy chains, such as CVS.
expands its health care menu, it builds even more ties with its shoppers. Its
deal with Anthem, for instance, lets the insurer’s Medicare Advantage customers
use their plan benefits to purchase over-the-counter medicine, first aid
supplies, support braces and pain relievers from a store.
can market its healthy grocery items to certain Medicare Advantage enrollees
since the federal government recently allowed insurers to cover such products
as a supplemental benefit. This has given the company another advantage over pharmacy
chains, which have much more limited food selections.
retailer’s locations blanket the nation. Many are in rural areas where there
are few other health care options. Walmart often operates as a community
center, with customers dropping in a few times a week. And it serves as a
one-stop shop, where people could access medical services and pick up whatever
other items they need.” (E)
heels of Walmart offering health clinics in certain locations, the big-box
retailer is adding on a digital healthcare site—WalmartHealth.com—so consumers
can make doctor, dentist, and behaviorial health medical appointments, in
addition to scheduling hearing tests and immunizations…
some true loyalty-generating opportunities in extending your ambulatory
offerings with select regional retail clinics, utilizing technology to improve
your digital front door and provide real-time patient obligations.” (F)
Centers of Excellence program gives associates access to world-class
heart surgeries, like cardiac bypass and valve replacements. Certain spine
surgeries, like spinal fusions and removal of spinal discs (discectomy). Hip
and knee joint replacements. Breast, lung, colorectal, prostate, and blood
cancers (including myeloma, lymphoma, and leukemia). Certain weight loss
surgeries, like gastric bypass and gastric sleeve procedures. Organ and tissue
transplants (except kidney, cornea, and intestinal), ventricular assist devices
(VADs) and total artificial hearts, and CAR-T cell therapy. Outpatient
radiology, which will be reviewed automatically through the pre-authorization
partnered with several world-class health systems across the country to serve
the Centers of Excellence program, and a few of these include: Cleveland
Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio, for cardiac surgery. Johns Hopkins Hospital, in
Baltimore, Maryland, for joint replacement surgery. Mayo Clinic in Minnesota,
Florida and Arizona, for transplants and cancer care. Geisinger Medical Center,
in Danville, Pennsylvania, for weight loss surgery. Mercy Springfield, in
Springfield, Missouri, for spine surgery..
to the full cost of treatment for many conditions, the benefit includes travel
and lodging expenses for both the patient and a companion caregiver. Travel and
lodging are not included for the weight-loss-surgery benefit.” (G)
has earned designation as a Radiology Center of Excellence by Covera Health, a
New York City-based company that uses advanced clinical analytics to
objectively measure quality in radiology.
With its new
distinction, Geisinger joins a national program that integrates with
self-funded insurers’ existing health networks to steer community members
toward local radiology providers based on their diagnostic accuracy — not price
— to curb misdiagnoses. Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger is also a member of Covera
Health’s Quality Care Collaborative, in which participants receive practical,
actionable feedback to improve their clinical practice.” (H)
“Walmart’s retail strategy in health care is based on the
hospital inefficiency in innovation and the business theory of bundling and
The vast majority of hospital revenue is rooted in the fee-for-service business
model: rather than make money for improving health (a reimbursement model that
is much harder to design than it sounds), providers are paid more for the
number of services provided — hampering incentives for innovation. Providers
are thus incentivized to provide a high-volume, high-cost standard of care,
squeezing money from insurance companies. In turn, those costs are passed down to
consumers in the form of higher premiums. However, as hospital operational
costs ballooned, health systems began to treat their departments like a public
investment portfolio. They unbundled (divested from) low-end services that
required all the same operating expenses but didn’t turn a profit.
primary care is a prime unit to be unbundled from traditional health care
delivery systems, i.e. hospitals, for two reasons:
patients that visit primary care physicians don’t need the resources of an
expensive medical center on-hand for each visit, and would be better served by
an experience that emphasized price, convenience, and attention.
rates for most primary care services, e.g. a blood pressure checkup or physical
exam, are much lower than specialty care (imaging, biopsies, intensive
procedures, etc) and thus provide a lower short-term return on invested capital…
us to the biggest loser of Walmart’s foray into health care: traditional health
systems. Walmart’s strategy notably doesn’t utilize any ownership of inpatient
hospitals; all incentives are aligned to provide the highest value care at the
lowest possible cost in outpatient settings, ultimately decreasing utilization
of expensive health care services like inpatient hospitalizations. (I)
than a decade of transforming health care for its roughly 1 million workers and
huge and loyal customer base, Walmart plans to play an even larger role. Marcus
Osborne, vice president of transformation and wellness for the retail giant,
made that point clear in a recent talk with the Health Care Council of Chicago.
Walmart will continue to expand its health care services for customers and
employees until or unless the company “hits a third rail” by entering
a space in which it can’t compete effectively. To date, he emphasized that
every significant initiative the company has undertaken to address its
customers’ top three health care concerns — cost, convenience and access — has
delivered value for employees and customers and a return for the company.
reported that all projects that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. undertook over the last
two years, including a pilot with its Boston-based partner Beacon Health to
bring affordable, behavioral health care to customers, performed better than
expected. He said Walmart’s most successful venture recently has been its
partnership with Quest Diagnostics to provide in-store testing services to
customers, providing a level of convenience that has increased patient
compliance with their physicians’ directives by 50 percent or more.
Osborne addressed include: Access to care; Variation in clinical practice; Solving
obesity; Scaling success. (J)
a retail warehouse club operated by Walmart, is teaming up with healthcare
companies to offer four bundled healthcare service offerings for its members,
ranging from $50 to $240 per year.
called Care Accelerator, is in tandem with payer Humana and on-demand primary
care app 98point6. Bundles vary in included services, but each offers free
prescriptions on some generic medications, low-cost dental and vision services,
prepaid health debit cards for use within the network and unlimited telehealth
for $1 a visit.
stressed that Care Accelerator is not a health insurance plan. Participating
Sam’s Club members will still have to pay their healthcare provider at the
point of service, though it will be at a discounted rate.
bundle, for example, costs $240 a year and covers up to six family members. It
includes access to preventive lab screenings for early detection of heart
disease and diabetes, a 10% discount on hearing aids and up to a 30% discount
on chiropractic, massage and acupuncture services.
By comparison, the “Starter A” bundle only includes free select generic medications, $1 telehealth visits, $60 eye exams and a $5 prepaid health debit card. Medications must be filled at Sam’s Club pharmacies and eye exams must be done at Sam’s Club, guaranteeing business for the retailer and its 566 pharmacy locations.” (K)
2005, a memo from Walmart’s then-Vice President of Benefits, Susan Chambers,
outlined a strategy for how the company could remove sick workers from the
payrolls and avoid paying healthcare benefits. More recently, premiums on
Walmart’s health plans have soared, and the company has cut eligibility
2015, Walmart cut coverage for anyone working less than 30 hours per week.
In the last
five years, the cost of Walmart’s cheapest healthcare plan has more than
Hundreds of thousands of Walmart workers and their family members qualify for publicly funded health insurance.
health care plans fail to cover hundreds of thousands of associates. In 2009,
Walmart claimed that 52% of associates were covered under its healthcare plan.
The company has refused to disclose coverage rates for its 1.5 million U.S.
employees since then.
years, Walmart has made it even more difficult for associates to get quality
health care for themselves and their families. The company stopped offering
health insurance to part-time employees working less than 24 hours per week in
2012, and starting in 2015, it cut coverage for anyone working less than 30
hours per week, including those who had previously been grandfathered in. In
the last five years, the cost of Walmart’s cheapest healthcare plan has more
than doubled. The cost of many of the company’s family plans has more than
quadrupled over that time period.
employees earning Walmart’s starting rate of $9.00/hour working an average of
34 hours per week, the deductible alone on Walmart’s cheapest plan for workers
with children is over a third of the employee’s annual gross income.” (L)
ASSIGNMENTS TO CONSIDER.
You are the CEO of a suburban community hospital, the only one in town, two block away from a big Walmart store that just opened a Walmart Health clinic.
the hospital purchased a second MRI and started an interventional cardiology
program. University Medical School, 50 miles away, has just opened a local
cancer program satellite.
The Board is
in a panic as Walmart is hiring your biggest physician admitters and senior
technical staff. Admissions are falling.
There is a
Board meeting next week.
Where do you start?
Compare WalmartCare with CVSCare, AppleCare, GoogleCare, MicrosoftCare, AmazonCare, and other nontraditional models.
PART 1: January 31, 2019. “If you’re shot, stabbed, hit by a
car, fall off a roof or suffer any other major injury in San Francisco, you’ll
be whisked to San Francisco General Hospital, the only trauma center in the
PART 2: February 20, 2019. A new bill would outlaw the big,
surprise bills that Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital has sent to
hundreds of patients.
PART 3: April 18, 2019. “Zuckerberg San Francisco General
Hospital announced Tuesday it has overhauled its billing policies…
PART 4: August 20, 2019. Hospitals kept ER fees secret
ASSIGNMENT: How do other states address financial
sustainability for their “safety-net” hospitals?
PART 1: January 31, 2019. “If you’re shot, stabbed, hit by a
car, fall off …
“If you’re shot, stabbed, hit by a car, fall off a roof or
suffer any other major injury in San Francisco, you’ll be whisked to San
Francisco General Hospital, the only trauma center in the city. …But you may
leave with a very unpleasant side-effect: a shockingly high bill. …That’s because
S.F. General – whose patients are overwhelmingly poor and are on Medicare or
Medi-Cal, or have no insurance at all – lacks a good way to deal with patients
who are actually insured.” (A)
“Under a new state law, if you visit an in-network facility
– such as a hospital, lab or imaging center – you will only be responsible for
your in-network share of the cost, even if you’re seen by an out-of-network
The new law covers Californians with private health
insurance plans that are regulated by the state Department of Managed Health
Care, or DMHC, and the state Department of Insurance, which includes roughly 70
percent of the state’s private insurance market, according to the California
Health Care Foundation.
It does not cover some 5.7 million people whose
employer-sponsored insurance plans are regulated by the U.S. Department of
The key point to remember is that you shouldn’t pay more
than your in-network copayment, coinsurance or deductible, as long as you
visited an in-network facility for non-emergency services.” (B)
“The trauma center has no contracts with private insurance
companies. If it did, there would be agreements with those insurers on how much
a particular drug or a particular procedure costs.
Instead, the hospital charges the highest rates approved by
the Board of Supervisors and the mayor, receives whatever amount the patient’s
insurance company decides to pay, and bills the patient for the rest.” (C)
On April 3, Nina Dang, 24, found herself in a position like
so many San Francisco bike riders – on the pavement with a broken arm.
A bystander saw her fall and called an ambulance. She was
semi-lucid for that ride, awake but unable to answer basic questions about
where she lived. Paramedics took her to the emergency room at Zuckerberg San
Francisco General Hospital, where doctors X-rayed her arm and took a CT scan of
her brain and spine. She left with her arm in a splint, on pain medication, and
with a recommendation to follow up with an orthopedist.
A few months later, Dang got a bill for $24,074.50. Premera
Blue Cross, her health insurer, would only cover $3,830.79 of that – an amount
that it thought was fair for the services provided. That left Dang with
$20,243.71 to pay, which the hospital threatened to send to collections in
Most big hospital ERs negotiate prices for care with major
health insurance providers and are considered “in-network.” Zuckerberg San
Francisco General has not done that bargaining with private plans, making them
“out-of-network.” That leaves many insured patients footing big bills.
The problem is especially acute for patients like Dang:
those who are brought to the hospital by ambulance, still recovering from a
trauma and with little ability to research or choose an in-network facility.
A spokesperson for the hospital confirmed that ZSFG does not
accept any private health insurance, describing this as a normal billing
practice. He said the hospital’s focus is on serving those with public health
coverage – even if that means offsetting those costs with high bills for the
“It’s a pretty common thing,” said Brent Andrew, the
hospital spokesperson. “We’re the trauma center for the whole city. Our mission
is to serve people who are underserved because of their financial needs. We
have to be attuned to that population.”
But most medical billing experts say it is rare for major
emergency rooms to be out-of-network with all private health plans. (D)
On its web site, ZSFG declares that “everyone is welcome
here” regardless of their financial situation or immigration status:
Everyone is welcome here, no matter your ability to pay,
lack of insurance, or immigration status. We’re much more than a medical
facility; we’re a health care community promoting good health for all San
We’re part of a large group of neighborhood clinics and
healthcare providers, the San Francisco Health Network. In partnership, we
provide primary care for all ages, specialty care, dentistry, emergency and
trauma care, and acute care for the people of San Francisco…
“Our mission is to serve people who are underserved because
of their financial needs,” the spokesperson also stated. “We have to be attuned
to that population.” (E)
“More than half of U.S. adults “have been surprised by a
medical bill that they thought would have been covered by insurance,” according
to a new survey from research group NORC at the University of Chicago…
The big picture: Drug prices have been in the crosshairs of
lawmakers, and health insurers have always been a punching bag. But hospitals
and doctors aren’t attracting any large-scale movement to rein in pricing and
“There’s a huge amount of trust in the providers people
choose to go to,” said Caroline Pearson, senior fellow at NORC. “I think we’ve
got a long way to go until we have backlash against those providers. But as
insurance gets more complicated and out-of-pocket costs rise, we’re going to
see more and more surprise bills.” (F))
“U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said federal lawmakers on
both sides of the aisle are moving closer to an agreement on legislation to
prevent surprise medical bills, according to a Bloomberg Government report…
Republicans and Democrats have been working to address the
issue, and bipartisan legislation is predicted for early 2019, Mr. Cassidy told
There have been legislative efforts related to surprise
medical bills. In September, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled the
Protecting Patients from Surprise Medical Bills Act. Then on Oct. 11, Democrat
Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire introduced the No More Surprise Medical
Bills Act of 2018. The first draft bill focuses on preventing out-of-network
providers from charging patients more for emergency care than what they would
pay using insurance. The second bars healthcare providers from out-of-network
billing for emergency services, according to the report.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg Government notes, insurers and
hospitals are pointing the finger at each other over who is at fault for the
Mr. Cassidy told the publication there are “bad apples with
both groups” and anticipates both sides “are going to have to give a little
bit” when it comes to changes.” (G)
“Payer groups, including America’s Health Insurance Plans,
are joining forces with employers, consumers and other stakeholders in support
of a plan they say will tackle surprise billing.
The groups signed on to a set of guiding principles aimed at
protecting consumers from the practice. The guidelines are: inform patients
when care is out of network, support federal policy that protects consumers
while restraining costs and ensuring quality networks and pay out-of-network
doctors based on a federal standard.
Meanwhile, the American Hospital Association and the
Federation of American Hospitals released a joint statement saying hospitals
and health systems also support patient protections from surprise billing but
place blame on insurers, not providers…
AHIP said surprise billing happens because providers aren’t
participating in certain networks. “When doctors, hospitals or care specialists
choose not to participate in networks – or if they do not meet the standards
for inclusion in a network – they charge whatever rates they like,” the group
In their statement, the hospital groups also backed consumer
protections, but pointed the finger at payers for the issue. “Inadequate health
plan provider networks that limit patient access to emergency care is one of
the root causes of surprise bills. Patients should be confident that they can
seek immediate lifesaving care at any hospital. The hospital community wants to
ensure that patients are protected from surprise gaps in coverage that result
in surprise bills, and we look forward to working with policymakers to achieve
this goal,” they wrote…” (H)
“I’ve read emergency room bills from all 50 states and the
District of Columbia. I’ve looked at bills from big cities and from rural
areas, from patients who are babies and patients who are elderly. I’ve even
submitted one of my own emergency room bills for an unexpected visit this past
Some of the patients I read about come in for the reasons
you’d expect: a car accident, pains that could indicate appendicitis or a heart
attack, or because the ER was the only place open that night or weekend….
I’ll stop collecting emergency room bills on December 31.
But before I do that, I wanted to share the five key things I’ve learned in my
year-long stint as a medical bills collector.
1) The prices are high – even for things you can buy in a
2) Going to an in-network hospital doesn’t mean you’ll be
seen by in-network doctors
3) You can be charged just for sitting in a waiting room
4) It is really hard for patients to advocate for themselves
in an emergency room setting
5) Congress wants to do something about the issue.. (I)
“Zuckerberg General’s emergency room fees are also higher,
on average, than ERs nationally, in the state of California, and in the city of
San Francisco. In the city, they’ve charged up to five times as much. The fees
are set by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which has voted for steady
increases, doubling the charge since 2010.
When asked about the fees, board members admitted that they
hadn’t kept a close eye on the prices and said they plan to hold hearings on
“It turns out we should have been monitoring this much more
closely,” says Aaron Peskin, a supervisor who has previously voted in favor of
the hospital prices and who is now calling for the hearings…
The city of San Francisco manages Zuckerberg General and
sets the prices the hospital charges.
The task falls to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, an
11-member board that oversees city policies and budgets. Every year or two,
they approve a lengthy document that lists hospital prices for everything from
an emergency room fee to a day in the obstetrics unit to a primary care exam.
The document describes the fees as “proper reasonable amounts.”
The current prices were approved at a board a meeting in
July 2017. A video recording of that meeting shows there was no debate or
discussion of the prices. Instead, the board of supervisors unanimously
approved the ZSFG charges in a voice vote that latest less than a minute…
But there is little record of public discussion or debate
over that increase. Meeting records for each vote on the hospital prices since
2010 show that the fees have always been approved unanimously.
“I cannot recall there ever being any discussion of them,”
says Peskin, a board member who has served on and off since 2001. “I don’t
think there has ever been a split vote, and that’s been true as long as I’ve
been on the board of supervisors. But that will probably change now.”..
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors now plans to bring
greater scrutiny to the hospital’s billing practices in light of Vox’s
“Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital is reducing a
bike crash patient’s $20,243 bill down to $200 – only after the case drew national
attention to the hospital’s surprising policy of being out-of-network with all
private health insurance…
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which oversees the
hospital, now plans to hold hearings on Zuckerberg General’s billing practices
as well.” (K)
“Momentum is building for action to prevent patients from
receiving massive unexpected medical bills, aided by President Trump, who is
vowing to take on the issue…
Trump gave a boost to efforts on Wednesday.
“[People] go in, they have a procedure and then all of a
sudden they can’t afford it, they had no idea it was so bad,” Trump said at a
roundtable with patients about the issue.
“We’re going to stop all of it, and it’s very important to
me,” he added.
But the effort still faces obstacles from powerful health
care industry groups – including hospitals, insurers and doctors. Those groups
are jockeying to ensure that they avoid a financial hit from whatever solution
lawmakers and the White House back.” (L)
Emergency rooms argue that these fees are necessary to keep
their doors open, so they can be ready 24/7 to treat anything from a sore back
to a gunshot wound. But there is also wide variation in how much hospitals
charge for these fees, raising questions about how they are set and how closely
they are tethered to overhead costs.
Most hospitals do not make these fees public. Patients
typically learn what their emergency room facility fee is when they receive a
bill weeks later. The fees can be hundreds or thousands of dollars. That’s why
Vox has launched a year-long investigation into emergency room facility fees,
to better understand how much they cost and how they affect patients…
We found that the price of these fees rose 89 percent
between 2009 and 2015 – rising twice as fast as the price of outpatient health
care, and four times as fast as overall health care spending.” (M)
“San Francisco, CA
-Today Mayor London N. Breed, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, the Department of Public
Health and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center (ZSFG)
announced immediate steps to improve billing practices at ZSFG for patients who
have gotten stuck in the middle of disputes between the hospital and their
insurance provider, including a temporary halt to the practice of balance
Temporarily halt all balance billing of patients
Effective immediately until a better plan is determined
Make financial assistance easier to get
Proactively begin the process of assessing a patient’s
eligibility for assistance, rather than waiting for them to apply
Improve patient communications
Proactively reach out to patients who are receiving large
bills to explain the situation, remove the element of surprise, and offer to
Create a Frequently Asked Questions document to clear up
many of the routine questions about billing and financial assistance
Publicize the patient financial services hotline, (415)
206-8448, so that people know where to go for help
Increase communication with patients and provide information
about financial assistance opportunities
Additional elements of a comprehensive plan to be developed
within 90 days
Make financial assistance easier to get
Adjust charity care and sliding scale policies to expand the
number of people who are eligible
Revise ZSFG catastrophic high medical expense program to
support more patients who are faced with high, unexpected bills for
Streamline the process of applying for assistance
Protect patients’ financial health
Establish an out-of-pocket maximum for patient payments to
Pursue agreements with private insurance companies
Work with state partners to explore additional efforts to
improve insurance payments
Ensure ZSFG prices and practices are fair
Undertake a study of hospital charges regionally, comparing
trauma centers, academic medical centers, San Francisco and Bay Area hospitals
Research billing and financial assistance practices of
California public hospitals to identify opportunities for improvement
Conduct financial analysis of impact on the City of proposed
PART 2: February 20,
2019. A new bill would outlaw the big, surprise bills that Zuckerberg San
Francisco General Hospital has sent to hundreds of patients.
“California lawmakers will introduce legislation Monday to
end surprise emergency room bills like those that left one patient with a $20,000
treatment bill after a minor bike crash – a move they say was inspired by Vox’s
reporting on the issue.
The new bill, introduced by Assemblyman David Chiu and Sen.
Scott Wiener, would bar California hospitals from pursuing charges beyond a
patient’s regular co-payment or deductible. The ban would apply even if a
hospital was out-of-network with a patient’s health insurance…
California actually has some of the country’s strongest
protections against surprise medical bills – but the state’s laws never anticipated
a hospital with billing practices like Zuckerberg San Francisco General.
In 2016, California passed a law that protected patients
from surprise bills from out-of-network doctors they didn’t choose.
This might happen if, for example, a patient went to an
in-network hospital and then received a bill from an out-of-network
anesthesiologist or radiologist they never even met.
That law covered patients receiving scheduled care like
surgery or delivering a baby. Separately, a decade-old California Supreme Court
ruling provided similar protections for emergency room patients.
Neither the court ruling nor the 2016 law anticipated a
situation like Zuckerberg San Francisco General, where the entire hospital is
“out of network” with all private health insurance.”..
This new legislation would tackle that rarer situation where
a hospital is not in network, and then sends the patient a bill for whatever
balance their insurer won’t pay.
There are two key parts to the proposal. First, the bill
would prohibit hospitals from pursuing any balance that the patient owed beyond
their regular co-payment or contributions to the health plan’s deductible.
Second, the bill would regulate the prices that the hospital
could charge for its care, limiting the fees to 150 percent of the Medicare
price or the average contracted rate in the area, whichever is greater.” (A)
“Publicity over “balance billing,” a practice that at
Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital has left some patients with insurance
on the hook for thousands of dollars in bills, has prompted San Francisco
lawmakers to call for a ban.
SF General made headlines recently for being out of network
with all private insurance companies and charging its insured patients high
bills — in one case $20,000 for a broken arm — without informing them first of
Assembly Bill 1161, introduced by Assemblymember David Chiu
and state Sen. Scott Wiener, would mandate that insured patients across the
state owe the same copayment or deductible they would normally pay for their
in-network emergency care.
The ban would apply regardless of whether or not the
emergency room is in-network or out-of-network with a patient’s insurer.
Patients receiving non-emergency care already benefit from
protections of a similar state law. However, the law does not apply to
Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) patients.
Some 6 million people across the state have federally
regulated self-insured plans, and some 1 million have plans regulated by the
California Department of Insurance who don’t benefit from this protection, per
He said that the bill is a response “in regard to what we
learned is happening at [ZSFGH] — but also across California — this is the
situation of patients who get a surprise bill after visiting an emergency
Dear Congressional and Committee Leadership: (C)
On behalf of our member hospitals, health systems and other
health care organizations, we are fully committed to protecting patients from
“surprise bills” that result from unexpected gaps in coverage or medical
emergencies. We appreciate your leadership on this issue and look forward to
continuing to work with you on a federal legislative solution.
Surprise bills can cause patients stress and financial
burden at a time of particular vulnerability: when they are in need of medical
care. Patients are at risk of incurring such bills during emergencies, as well
as when they schedule care at an in-network facility without knowing the
network status of all of the providers who may be involved in their care. We must
work together to protect patients from surprise bills.
As you debate a legislative solution, we believe it is
Define “surprise bills.” Surprise bills may occur when a
patient receives care from an out-of-network provider or when their health plan
fails to pay for covered services. The three most typical scenarios are when:
(1) a patient accesses emergency services outside of their insurance network,
including from providers while they are away from home; (2) a patient receives
care from an out-of-network physician providing services in an in-network
hospital; or (3) a health plan denies coverage for emergency services saying
they were unnecessary.
Protect the patient financially…
Ensure patient access to emergency care…
Preserve the role of private negotiation…
Remove the patient from health plan/provider negotiations…
Educate patients about their health care coverage…
Ensure patients have access to comprehensive provider
networks and accurate network information…
Support state laws that work…
American Hospital Association, America’s Essential Hospitals,
Association of American Medical Colleges, Catholic Health Association of the
United States, Children’s Hospital Association, Federation of American
PART 3. April 18, 2019. “Zuckerberg San Francisco General
Hospital announced Tuesday it has overhauled its billing policies…
The hospital has for years made the rare decision to be out
of network with all private health insurance plans. This created an acute
problem for patients like like Nina Dang, 24, who made an unexpected trip to
the hospital’s emergency room, the largest in San Francisco. An ambulance took
Dang to the trauma center after a bike accident last April. She is insured by a
Blue Cross plan, but she didn’t know that the ER does not accept insurance. She
received a bill for $20,243.
After the Vox story ran, the hospital reduced Dang’s bill to
$200, the copay listed on her insurance card.
Now, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (ZSFG) is
essentially making the same change for all future patients: Its new billing
policies will no longer charge those with private coverage “any more than they
would have paid out of pocket for the same care at in-network facilities, based
on their insurance coverage.”
This will put an end to the hospital’s use of a
controversial practice call “balance billing,” when a hospital sends a patient
a bill for the balance that an insurer won’t pay.
ZSFG will also create a new out-of-pocket maximum on what
patients could end up owing for their treatment. The maximum is tethered to a
patient’s income and ranges from zero dollars for the lowest earners to a
$4,800 maximum for those with the highest incomes (1,000 percent of the poverty
line, or $251,400 for a family of four).” (A)
“The changes are aimed at shielding patients from large
bills by removing them from payment disputes between the hospital and the
insurance company, said Rachael Kagan, director of communications with the
“We don’t have a large number of privately insured patients
at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, but some of those who have been
in that situation in the past have had a terrible experience and we want to
rectify that,” said Ms. Kagan.
“We don’t want that to happen in the future. We know that
it’s very stressful to get a large bill and we consider our responsibility to
the patients to care for them in all ways. They will have gotten excellent
medical care from us, and we want to protect their financial well-being also,”
The hospital estimated that up to 1,700 of its 104,000
patients a year may have received a balance bill…
Zuckerberg hospital will also set a maximum out-of-pocket
cost for patients at all income levels, with any insurance status, and this
maximum will be income-based. No one will be charged more than 5 percent of
Additionally, the hospital will make its patient financial
assistance programs easier to qualify for so more people will get financial
assistance. This involves increasing the threshold to qualify for the
hospital’s charity care program. The threshold to qualify will increase from
350 percent of the federal poverty level to 500 percent of the federal poverty
The hospital is also adjusting the “sliding scale” financial
assistance program for San Francisco residents. Previously, Zuckerberg hospital
assessed eligibility for the program based on income and assets but will now
only take income into account…
Overall, she said she’s pleased the hospital is taking these
steps to better align its billing with its values and mission.” (B)
PART 4: August 18, 20129. Hospitals kept ER fees secret.
Zuckerberg San Francisco General and the University of
California San Francisco are two of the city’s busiest hospitals, about 4 miles
apart. But if you have private insurance and visit Zuckerberg General, you
could end up paying a lot more for the same treatment.
For an especially serious visit, Zuckerberg General charges
a facility fee of $11,176, 46 percent more than UCSF, which charges an average
The hospital is also out-of-network with all private
insurance, leaving patients responsible for the fee and the cost of treatment.
UC San Francisco, meanwhile, accepts insurance from most big providers.
Insurers generally negotiate lower prices for patients, and many plans cover ER
visits in part or in full…
When asked about the fees, board members admitted that they
hadn’t kept a close eye on the prices and said they plan to hold hearings on
“It turns out we should have been monitoring this much more
closely,” says Aaron Peskin, a supervisor who has previously voted in favor of
the hospital prices and who is now calling for the hearings…
“I cannot recall
there ever being any discussion of them,” says Peskin, a board member who has
served on and off since 2001. “I don’t think there has ever been a split vote,
and that’s been true as long as I’ve been on the board of supervisors. But that
will probably change now.” (A)
“Frustrated by waiting for federal lawmakers to act, states
have been trying to solve this issue. As of December 2018, 25 states offered
some protection against surprise billing, and the protections in nine of those
states were considered “comprehensive,” according to the Commonwealth Fund.
California, New York, Florida, Illinois and Connecticut are among the nine.
New state laws also have been adopted since, including in
Nevada, which will limit how much out-of-network providers, including
hospitals, can charge patients for emergency care, starting next year.
In California, a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling protects
some patients against surprise billing for emergency care, and a state law that
took effect in 2017 protects some who receive non-emergency care.
But millions remain vulnerable, largely because California’s
protections don’t cover all insurance plans. The California Supreme Court
ruling applies to people with plans regulated by the state Department of
Managed Health Care. That leaves out the roughly 1 million Californians with
plans regulated by the state Department of Insurance and the nearly 6 million
people with federally regulated plans, most of whom have employer-sponsored
The state law governing non-emergency care also doesn’t
apply to the millions of residents with health plans regulated by the federal
The California Hospital Association opposes the measure,
which would limit the amount hospitals could charge insurance plans to a
certain rate for each service, varying by region…
“We fully support the
provision of the bill that protects patients. It is the rate-setting piece that
is our concern,” she said.” (B)
“Legislation to prohibit California hospitals from sticking
patients with huge emergency room bills that their insurers won’t cover has
cleared a crucial hurdle in the state Capitol.
Lawmakers in the Assembly voted 48-9 on Thursday to approve
AB1611, which would prohibit hospitals from “balance billing” patients if their
insurance won’t cover the full cost for care.
Assemblyman David Chiu and state Sen. Scott Wiener, both
Democrats from San Francisco, co-wrote the legislation. The bill now moves to
AB1611 would prohibit hospitals from billing patients for
any cost beyond their insurance deductible and co-payment. It also spells out
rules for how hospitals and insurers resolve cost disputes.” (C)
their opposition on a provision of the bill that would have limited charges for
out-of-network emergency services.
The proposal would have required hospitals to work directly
with health plans on billing, leaving the patients responsible only for their
in-network copayments, coinsurance and deductibles.
Citing fierce pushback from hospitals, California lawmakers
sidelined a bill Wednesday that would have protected some patients from
surprise medical bills by limiting how much hospitals could charge them for
emergency care.” (D)
The legislation, which contributed to the intense national
conversation about surprise medical billing, was scheduled to be debated
Wednesday in the state Senate Health Committee.
Instead, the bill’s author pulled it from consideration,
vowing to bring it back next year.
“We are going after a practice that has generated billions
of dollars for hospitals, so this is high-level,” said Assemblyman David Chiu
(D-San Francisco). “This certainly does not mean we’re done.” (E)
want you to know that they’re fully on board with the idea that emergency room
patients shouldn’t be hit with thousands of dollars in surprise billings
because the ER isn’t in their insurance plan’s network.
You should also know, however, that the hospitals just
killed a measure in Sacramento that would have accomplished that goal, and that
the reason they did so was to protect their own revenues….
The state’s hospitals went to the mattresses over the
payment provision, cursing it as “government rate setting” that they would
Hospital executives inundated legislators with warnings that
rate-setting would force their institutions to shut down.
We have 450 hospitals in California,” says Anthony Wright,
executive director of Health Access, “and every hospital CEO has the cellphone
number of his state senator and assemblyman. A hospital saying it would close
would give pause to any lawmaker.”
The proponents were aware that they were poking a stick into
a tiger’s cage. “We’re going after a practice that has generated billions of
dollars in profits for hospitals, Chiu told me, “and hospital CEOs around the
state waged very aggressive lobbying to protect those profits.”” (F)
“San Francisco’s health network has finalized its first
contract with a private health insurer, Canopy Health Canopy — meaning
Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, long perceived as the hospital of
last resort, is now in the business of wooing expectant mothers to choose to
deliver at its Family Birth Center…
Department of Public Health staff said the signing of this
contract was not a reaction to billing controversies at ZSFGH that erupted
earlier this year, when it was revealed that even insured patients were being
hit with crippling debts through the practice of “balance billing.” Because the
hospital was out-of-network for private insurance companies, there was often a
great divergence between what ZSFGH billed the insurance and what the insurance
company would deign to pay — leaving individuals responsible for the “balance.”
This situation, however, did highlight the hospital’s
unhealthy and precarious “payer mix.” With few privately insured patients,
ZSFGH ministers mostly to Medi-Cal recipients or the marginally insured. Deals
like the one initiated July 15 with Canopy would begin to change that mix,
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Jonathan M. Metsch, Dr.P.H.
Clinical Professor, Environmental Medicine and Public Health, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
Adjunct Professor, Management, Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, C.U.N.Y.
Adjunct Professor, Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration & Rutgers School of Public Health
President & CEO, LibertyHealth/ Jersey City Medical Center (1989-2006)
PART 1. April16, 2019. Is it ethical for the public not to
be notified about new “super bugs” in hospitals so they can decide whether or
not to go to affected hospitals?
PART 2. May 13, 2019. CANDIDA AURIS. “In 30 years, I’ve
never faced so tough a reporting challenge – and one so unexpected. Who
wouldn’t want to talk about a fungus?…
PART 3. June 6, 2019. CANDIDA AURIS. “Antibiotic-resistant
superbugs are everywhere. If your hospital claims it doesn’t have them, it
isn’t looking hard enough.”
PART 1. April16, 2019.
Is it ethical for the public not be notified about new “super bugs” in
hospitals so they can decide whether or not to go to affected hospitals?
“Last May, an elderly man was admitted to the Brooklyn
branch of Mount Sinai Hospital for abdominal surgery. A blood test revealed
that he was infected with a newly discovered germ as deadly as it was
mysterious. Doctors swiftly isolated him in the intensive care unit.
The germ, a fungus called Candida auris, preys on people
with weakened immune systems, and it is quietly spreading across the globe.
Over the last five years, it has hit a neonatal unit in Venezuela, swept
through a hospital in Spain, forced a prestigious British medical center to
shut down its intensive care unit, and taken root in India, Pakistan and South
Recently C. auris reached New York, New Jersey and Illinois,
leading the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to add it to a
list of germs deemed “urgent threats.”
The man at Mount Sinai died after 90 days in the hospital,
but C. auris did not. Tests showed it was everywhere in his room, so invasive
that the hospital needed special cleaning equipment and had to rip out some of
the ceiling and floor tiles to eradicate it.
“Everything was positive – the walls, the bed, the doors,
the curtains, the phones, the sink, the whiteboard, the poles, the pump,” said
Dr. Scott Lorin, the hospital’s president. “The mattress, the bed rails, the
canister holes, the window shades, the ceiling, everything in the room was
“Back in 2009, a 70-year-old Japanese woman’s ear infection
puzzled doctors. It turned out to be the first in a series of hard-to-contain
infections around the globe, and the beginning of an ongoing scientific and
The fungus that infected the Japanese woman, Candida auris,
kills more than 1 in 3 people who get an infection that spreads to their blood or
organs. It hits people who have weakened immune systems, and is most often
found in places like care homes and hospitals. Once it shows up, it’s hard to
get rid of: unlike most species of fungi, Candida auris spreads from person to
person and can live outside the body for long periods of time.
Mount Sinai wasn’t the first hospital to face this task: a
London hospital found itself with an outbreak in 2016, and the only way to stop
it was to rip out fixtures…
Scientists still aren’t sure exactly where this happened or
when. That’s one of the things they’re working on now, says Cuomo, because
figuring out how the fungus evolved could help researchers develop treatments
Although the “superbug” moniker might sound alarmist,
Candida auris qualifies for two reasons, says Cuomo. First, all strains of the
yeast are resistant to antifungals. There are three major kinds of antifungals
used to treat humans, and some strains of Candida auris are resistant to all of
them, while other strains are resistant to one or two. That limits the
treatment options for someone who has been infected-someone who is probably
already in poor health. The other reason is “this really scary property of not
being able to get rid of it,” Cuomo says.” (B)
“Superbugs are a terrifying prospect because of their
resistance to treatment, and one superbug that is sweeping all over the world
is the Candida auris.
C. auris is a fungus that causes serious infections in
various parts of the body, including the bloodstream and the ear.
While its discovery has been relatively recent in 2009, this
fungus has already wreaked havoc in hospitals in more than 20 different
countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, and Spain, among
In the United States, CDC reports a total of 587 clinical
cases of C. auris infections as of February. Most of it occurred in the areas
of New York City, New Jersey, and Chicago.” (C)
“The CDC issued a public alert in January about a
drug-resistant bacteria that a dozen Americans contracted after undergoing
elective surgeries at Grand View Hospital in Tijuana, Mexico. Yet when similar
outbreaks occur at U.S. hospitals, the agency does not issue a public warning.
This is due to an agreement with states that prohibits the CDC from publicly
disclosing hospitals undergoing outbreaks of drug-resistant infections,
according to NYT.
Patient advocates are pushing for more transparency into
hospital-based infection outbreaks, saying the lack of warning could put
patients at risk of harm.
“They might not get up and go to another hospital, but
patients and their families have the right to know when they are at a hospital
where an outbreak is occurring,” Lisa McGiffert, an advocate with the Patient
Safety Action Network, told NYT. “That said, if you’re going to have hip replacement
surgery, you may choose to go elsewhere.”..
The CDC declined NYT’s request for comment. Agency officials
have previously told the publication the confidentiality surrounding outbreaks
is necessary to encourage hospitals to report the drug-resistant infections.”
“New Jersey is among the states worst affected by an
increasing incidence of the potentially deadly fungus Candida auris, whose
resistance to drugs is causing headaches for hospitals, state and federal
health officials said on Monday.
There were 104 confirmed and 22 probable cases of people
infected by the fungus in New Jersey by the end of February, according to the
federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up sharply from a handful
when the fungus was first identified in the state about two years ago.
The state’s number of cases – now the third-highest after
New York and Illinois – has risen in tandem with an increase, first overseas,
and now in the United States, in a trend that some doctors attribute to the
overuse of drugs to treat infections, prompting the mutation of infection
sources, in this case, a fungus.
The fungus mostly affects people who have existing
illnesses, and may already be hospitalized with compromised immune systems,
health officials said.
Nicole Kirgan, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department
of Health, said she didn’t know whether any of the state’s cases have been
fatal, and couldn’t say which hospitals are treating people with the fungus
because they have not, so far, been required to report their cases to state
But Dr. Ted Louie, an infectious disease specialist at
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, said many hospitals
don’t know how to eradicate the fungus once it has occurred.
Some disinfectants commonly used in hospitals have proved
ineffective in removing the fungus, Dr. Louie said, so hospitals have been
urged to use other disinfecting agents, although it’s not yet clear which of
them work, if any.
“This is a fairly new occurrence and we are still learning
how to deal with it,” he said. “We have to figure out which disinfectant
procedures may be best to try to eradicate the infection, so at this point, I
don’t think we have good enough information to advise.” (E)
“Adding to the difficulty of treating candida auris is
finding it in the first place. The infection is often asymptomatic, showing few
to no immediate symptoms, said Chauhan. The symptoms that do appear, such as
fever, are often confused for bacterial infections, he said.
“Most routine diagnostic tests don’t work very well for
candida auris,” he said. “They’re often misidenfitied as other species.”
The best way to identify candida auris is by looking under a
microscope, which often takes time because it requires doctors to grow the
fungus, Chauhan said.
As with most infectious diseases, the best course of action
is good hygiene and sterilization protocol. Washing your hands and using hand
sanitizer after helps to prevent transmission and infection, Chauhan said.
Doctors and healthcare workers should use protective gear,
and people visiting loved ones in hospitals and long-term care centers should
take proper precautions, he said.
The Center for Disease Control recommends using a special
disinfectant that is used to treat clostridium difficile spores. The
disinfectant has been effective in wiping out clostridium difficile, known as
c. diff, and disinfects surfaces contaminated with candida auris, as well.” (F)
“Hospitals and nursing homes in California and Illinois are
testing a surprisingly simple strategy against the dangerous,
antibiotic-resistant superbugs that kill thousands of people each year: washing
patients with a special soap.
The efforts – funded with roughly $8 million from the
federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – are taking
place at 50 facilities in those two states.
This novel approach recognizes that superbugs don’t remain
isolated in one hospital or nursing home but move quickly through a community,
said Dr. John Jernigan, who directs the CDC’s office on health care-acquired
“No health care facility is an island,” Jernigan said. “We
all are in this complicated network.”
At least 2 million people in the U.S. become infected with
an antibiotic-resistant bacterium each year, and about 23,000 die from those
infections, according to the CDC…
Containing the dangerous bacteria has been a challenge for
hospitals and nursing homes. As part of the CDC effort, doctors and health care
workers in Chicago and Southern California are using the antimicrobial soap
chlorhexidine, which has been shown to reduce infections when patients bathe
with it. Though chlorhexidine is frequently used for bathing in hospital
intensive care units and as a mouthwash for dental infections, it is used less
commonly for bathing in nursing homes…
The infection-control work was new to many nursing homes,
which don’t have the same resources as hospitals, Lin said.
In fact, three-quarters of nursing homes in the U.S.
received citations for infection-control problems over a four-year period,
according to a Kaiser Health News analysis, and the facilities with repeat
citations almost never were fined. Nursing home residents often are sent back
to hospitals because of infections.” (G)
“The C.D.C. declined to comment, but in the past officials
have said their approach to confidentiality is necessary to encourage the
cooperation of hospitals and nursing homes, which might otherwise seek to
conceal infectious outbreaks.
Those pushing for increased transparency say they are up
against powerful medical institutions eager to protect their reputations, as
well as state health officials who also shield hospitals from public scrutiny…
Hospital administrators and public health officials say the
emphasis on greater transparency is misguided. Dr. Tina Tan, the top
epidemiologist at the New Jersey Department of Health, said that alerting the
public about hospitals where cases of Candida auris have been reported would
not be useful because most people were at low risk for exposure and public
disclosure could scare people away from seeking medical care.
“That could pose greater health risks than that of the
organism itself,” she said.
Nancy Foster, the vice president for quality and patient
safety at the American Hospital Association, agreed, saying that publicly
identifying health care facilities as the source of an infectious outbreak was
an imperfect science.
“That’s a lot of information to throw at people,” she said,
“and many hospitals are big places so if an outbreak occurs in a small unit, a
patient coming to an ambulatory surgical center might not be at risk.”
Still, hospitals and local health officials sometimes hide
outbreaks even when disclosure could save lives. Between 2012 and 2014, more
than three dozen people at a Seattle hospital were infected with a
drug-resistant organism they got from a contaminated medical scope. Eighteen of
them died, but the hospital, Virginia Mason Medical Center, did not disclose
the outbreak, saying at the time that it did not see the need to do so.” (H)
“Many have heard of the rise of drug-resistant infections.
But few know about an issue that’s making this threat even scarier in the
United States: the shortage of specialists capable of diagnosing and treating
those infections. Infectious diseases is one of just two medicine
subspecialties that routinely do not fill all of their training spots every
year in the National Resident Matching Program (the other is nephrology).
Between 2009 and 2017, the number of programs filling all of their
adult-infectious-disease training positions dropped by more than 40 percent…
Everyone who works in health care agrees that we need more
infectious-disease doctors, yet very few actually want the job. What’s going
The problem is that infectious-disease specialists care for
some of the most complicated patients in the health care system, yet they are
among the lowest paid. It is one of the only specialties in medicine that
sometimes pays worse than being a general practitioner. At many medical
centers, a board-certified internist accepts a pay cut of 30 percent to 40
percent to become an infectious-disease specialist.
This has to do with the way our insurance system reimburses
doctors. Medicare assigns relative value units to the thousands of services
that doctors provide, and these units largely determine how much physicians are
paid. The formula prioritizes invasive procedures over intellectual expertise.
The problem is that infectious-disease doctors don’t really
do procedures. It is a cognitive specialty, providing expert consultation, and
insurance doesn’t pay much for that…
Infectious-disease specialists are often the only health
care providers in a hospital – or an entire town – who know when to use all of
the new antibiotics (and when to withhold them). These experts serve as an
indispensable cog in the health care machine, but if trends continue, we won’t
have enough of them to go around. The terrifying part is that most patients
won’t even know about the deficit. Your doctor won’t ask a specialist for help
because in some parts of the country, the service simply won’t be available.
She’ll just have to wing it…
We must hurry. Superbugs are coming for us. We need experts
who know how to treat them.” (I)
People visiting patients at the hospital, and most
hospitalized patients, have little to fear from a novel fungal disease that has
struck more than 150 people in Illinois – all in the Chicago area – a Memorial
Medical Center official said Friday.
“For normal, healthy people, this is not a concern,” Gina
Carnduff, Memorial Health System director of infection prevention, said in
reference to Candida auris infections.
Carnduff, who is based at Memorial Medical Center, said only
the “sickest of the sick” patients are at risk of catching or spreading the C.
auris infection or dying from it.
Those patients, she said, include people who have stayed for
long periods at health care facilities – such as skilled-care nursing homes or
long-term acute-care hospitals – and who are on ventilators or have central
venous catheter lines or feeding tubes…
Officials from both Memorial Medical Center and HSHS St.
John’s Hospital said their institutions already are using the bleach-based
cleaning solutions known to prevent the spread of C. auris and other
The Illinois Department of Public Health’s website says more
than one in every three people with “invasive C. auris infection” affecting the
blood, heart or brain will die…
The state health department says 154 confirmed cases of C.
auris and four probable cases have been identified, all in the Chicago area.
Ninety-five cases were in Chicago, 56 were in Cook County outside of Chicago,
and seven were spread among the counties of DuPage, Lake and Will.
Eighty-five of the 158 people making up the confirmed and
probable cases have died, but only one death was “directly attributed” to the
infection, Arnold said. It’s not known whether C. auris played a role in the
deaths of the other 84 people, she said. (J)
“There is also the fact that some lab tests will not
identify the superbug as the source of an illness, which means that some
patients will receive the wrong treatment, increasing the duration of the
infection and the chance to transmit the fungus to another person.” (K)
“Hospitals, state health departments and the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention are putting up a wall of silence to keep the
public from knowing which hospitals harbor Candida auris.
New York health officials publish a yearly report on
infection rates in each hospital. They disclose rates for infections like MRSA
and C. Diff. But for several years, the same officials have been mum about the
far deadlier Candida auris. That’s like posting “Wanted” pictures for
pickpockets but not serial murderers.
Health officials say they’ll disclose the information in
their next yearly report. That could be many months from now. Too late.
Patients need information in real time about where the risks are…
Dr. Eleanor Adams, a state Health Department researcher,
examined all the facilities in New York City affected by Candida auris over a
four-year period. Adams found serious flaws, including “inadequate disinfection
of shared equipment” to take vital signs, hasty cleaning and careless
compliance with rules to keep infected patients isolated…” (L)
“Remedies for curtailing the advance of C. auris are
familiar. Health care facilities must undergo stringent infection controls,
test for new cases and quickly identify any sources passing it along. Visitors
and medical workers must wash their hands after touching patients or surfaces.
The yeast spreads widely throughout patients’ rooms. Some cleanups have
reportedly required removing ceiling and floor tiles.
C. auris isn’t simply an opportunistic infection. Its rise
is additional evidence that becoming too reliant on certain types of drugs may
have unintended consequences. Exhibit A is the overuse of antibiotics in
doctors’ offices and on farms that encourages the development of drug-resistant
bacteria. Researchers suspect a similar situation involving C. auris and
agricultural fungicides used on crops. So far the origins of C. auris are
unclear, with different clusters arising in different areas of the world.
There’s no need to panic. But vigilance is required to track
C. auris and raise awareness in order to combat it. Officials typically are
eager to spread the word about potential health crises, from measles to MRSA.
In this case, the CDC issued alerts about fungus to health care facilities, but
the New York Times encountered an unusual wall of silence while investigating
superbugs such as C. auris. Medical facilities didn’t want to scare off
Any attempts to hide the spread of a communicable disease
are irresponsible. Knowledge leads to faster prevention and treatment. Patients
and their families have a right to know how hospitals and government agencies
are responding to a new threat. Medical workers also deserve to be informed of
the risks they encounter on the job.
Battling the superbugs requires aggressive responses and,
ultimately, scientific advancements. Downplaying outbreaks won’t stop their
“The rise of C. auris, which may have lurked unnoticed for
millennia, owes entirely to human intervention – the massive use of fungicides
in agriculture and on farm animals which winnowed away more vulnerable species,
giving the last bug standing a free run. Sensitised to clinical fungicides, C.
auris has proved to be difficult to extirpate, and culls infected humans who
cannot fight diseases very effectively – infants, the old, diabetics, people
with immune suppression, either because of diseases like HIV or the use of
steroids. The new superfungus has the makings of a future plague, one of
several which may cumulatively surpass cancer as a leading killer in a few
The origin of C. auris is known because it broke out in the
21st century, but the plagues from antiquity lack origin stories. Even their
spread was understood only retrospectively, in the light of modern science. The
father of all plagues, the Black Death, originated in China in the early 14th
century and ravaged most of the local population before it began its long
journey westwards down the Silk Route, via Samarkand. At the time, the chain of
hosts that carried it would have been incomprehensible – the afflicting
organism Yersinia pestis, the fleas which it infested, the rats which the fleas
in turn infested, which carried it into the homes of humans….” (N)
“WebMD: Most of us know candida from common yeast infections
that you might get on your skin or mucous membranes. What makes this one
Chiller: It’s not acting like your typical candida. We’re
used to seeing those.
Candida – the regular ones – are already a major cause of
bloodstream infection in hospitalized patients. When we get invasive
infections, for example, bloodstream infections, we think that you sort of auto-infect
yourself. You come in with the candida already living in your gut. You’re in
the ICU, you’re on a broad spectrum antibiotic. You’re killing off bad
bacteria, you’re killing off good bacteria, so what are you left with? Yeast,
and it takes over.
What’s new with Candida auris is that it doesn’t act like
the typical candida that comes from our gut. This seems to be more of a skin
organism. It’s very happy on the skin and on surfaces.
It can survive on surfaces for long periods of time, weeks
to months. We know of patients that are colonized [meaning the Candida auris
lives on their skin without making them sick] for over a year now.
It is spreading in health care settings, more like bacteria
would, so it’s yeast that’s acting like bacteria” (O).
PART 2. In 30 years, I’ve never faced so tough a
reporting challenge – and one so unexpected. Who wouldn’t want to talk about a
“C. auris is a drug-resistant fungus that has emerged
mysteriously around the world, and it is understood to be a clear and present
danger. But Connecticut state officials wouldn’t tell us the name of the
hospital where they had had a C. auris patient, let alone connect us with her
family. Neither would officials in Texas, where the woman was transferred and
died. A spokeswoman for the City of Chicago, where C. auris has become rampant
in long-term health care facilities, promised to find a family and then stopped
returning my calls without explanation.” (A)
“Candida auris, also referred to as C. auris, is a
potentially deadly fungal infection that appears to be making its way through
hospitals and long-term care facilities across the country. The New York City
area and New Jersey have reported more than 400 cases over the last few years
alone. Federal health authorities have declared this fungus a “serious global
health threat.”” (B)
“The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE)
says Candida auris infections have been “associated with up to 40% in-hospital
“Most strains of C. auris are resistant to at least one
antifungal drug, one-third are resistant to two antifungal drug classes, and
some strains are resistant to all three major classes of antifungal drugs. C.
auris can spread readily between patients in healthcare facilities. It has
caused numerous healthcare-associated outbreaks that have been difficult to
control,” the CSTE said.
The CDC added, “Patients who have been hospitalized in a
healthcare facility a long time, have a central venous catheter, or other lines
or tubes entering their body, or have previously received antibiotics or
antifungal medications, appear to be at highest risk of infection with this
The CDC is alerting U.S. healthcare facilities to be on the
lookout for C. auris in their patients.” (C)
“”It’s a very serious health threat,” said Dr. Irwin
Redlener, Columbia University professor and an expert on public health policy.
“It’s a superbug, meaning resistant to all-known antibiotics.”..
“These people would be in danger, so you don’t want somebody
visiting the hospital not knowing that it’s around and somehow contracting the
infection,” Dr. Redlener said. “That would be an utter disaster.”..
Dr. Redlener says the secrecy is a big mistake.
“If they’re rattled by Candida auris to the point where we
have secrecy pacts among hospitals and public health agencies, then you’re just
hiding something that obviously needs more attention and resources to deal
with,” he said.
The state Department of Health says there is no risk to the
general public and notes that the vast majority of patients have had serious
underlying medical conditions.
Jill Montag, a spokesperson for the New York State
Department of Health, issued a statement to Eyewitness News.
“We are working aggressively with impacted hospitals and
nursing homes to implement infection control strategies for Candida auris,” it
Montag says they plan to include the name of the impacted
facilities in their annual infection report, which will be released later this
Dr. Redlener says they have the information now and should
release the names now…
“To keep that a secret is putting people in danger,” he
said. “And I don’t think that’s reasonable or ethical.”” (D)
“We don’t know why it emerged,” said Dr. Maurizio Del Poeta,
a professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at Stony Brook University’s
Renaissance School of Medicine. At the very least, he is recommending hospitals
develop stricter rules on foot traffic in and out of patients’ rooms because
the microbe can be carried on the bottom of shoes.
The pathogen clings to surfaces in hospital rooms,
flourishes on floors, and adheres to patients’ skin, phones and food trays. It
is odorless, invisible – and unlikely to vanish from health care institutions
“It can survive on a hospital floor for up to four weeks,”
Del Poeta said of C. auris. “It attaches to plastic objects and doorknobs.”..…
“If we don’t want it to become like Staphylococcus aureus,
then we have to act now,” said Del Poeta, referring to the bacteria that became
the poster child of drug resistance when it developed the ability to defeat the
antibiotic methicillin, garnering the name methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus
aureus, or MRSA…
“In order to get Candida auris out of a room, you have to
take away everything – doorknobs, plastic items, everything. It is very
difficult to eradicate it in a hospital,” Del Poeta said. He said his
institution has never had a patient with C. auris…
Scientists such as Del Poeta contend it’s time for new
methods of addressing resistant microbes of all kinds because infectious
pathogens have developed the power to outwit, outpace and outmaneuver
humankind’s most potent agents of chemical warfare, many of them developed in
the 20th century.” (E)
“A case management program piloted by the New York City
health department monitors patients colonized with Candida auris after they are
discharged into the community and notifies health care facilities of their status,
researchers reported at the CDC’s annual Epidemic Intelligence Service
Patients can remain colonized with C. auris for months in a
health care setting, but it is unclear if they remain colonized after
discharge, noted Genevieve Bergeron, MD, MPH, an Epidemic Intelligence Service
officer with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH),
According to Bergeron and colleagues, the state health
department began referring patients colonized with C. auris to the DOHMH on
Oct. 4, 2017. Approximately 12 case managers handled the referrals, conducting
patient interviews and reviewing medical records to obtain relevant clinical
information. They informed the patients’ providers and health care facilities
about their C. auris status and infection control needs.
“We requested that facilities flag the patient in their
electronic medical records to ensure that the patient has the proper
precautions, if the patient were to seek care again at those facilities,”
Bergeron said in a presentation. “Case mangers sent a medical alert card to the
patients for them to use when encountering health care providers unaware of
their infection control needs.”” (F)
“Regions are considering the use of electronic registries to
track patients that carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria including
carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). Implementing such a registry can
be challenging and requires time, effort, and resources; therefore, there is a
need to better understand the potential impact…
When all Illinois facilities participated (n=402), the
registry reduced the number of new carriers by 11.7% and CRE prevalence by 7.6%
over a 3-year period. When 75% of the largest Illinois facilities participated
(n=304), registry use resulted in a 11.6% relative reduction in new carriers
(16.9% and 1.2% in participating and non-participating facilities,
respectively) and 5.0% relative reduction in prevalence. When 50% participated
(n=201), there were 10.7% and 5.6% relative reductions in incident carriers and
prevalence, respectively. When 25% participated (n=101), there was a 9.1%
relative reduction in incident carriers (20.4% and 1.6% in participating and
non-participating facilities, respectively) and 2.8% relative reduction in
Implementing an XDRO registry reduced CRE spread, even when
only 25% of the largest Illinois facilities participated due to patient
sharing. Non-participating facilities garnered benefits, with reductions in new
“Quebec public-health authorities are bracing for the
inevitable arrival of a multi drug-resistant fungus that has been spreading
around the globe and causing infections, some of them fatal…
“We will definitely have cases here and there at one point,”
said Dr. Karl Weiss, chief of infectious diseases at the Jewish General
Hospital. “It’s almost guaranteed. The only thing is when you know what you’re
fighting against, it’s always easier and we will be able to contain it a lot
C. auris poses a quadruple threat: it’s tricky to identify;
it can thrive in hospitals for weeks (preying on patients with weakened immune
systems); it’s resistant to two classes of anti-fungal medications; and it can
cause invasive disease, with lingering bloodstream infections that are hard to
treat. The mortality rate can rise as high as 60 per cent.
The pathogen has emerged at a time when hospitals in Quebec
– their budgets stretched more than ever – are already struggling with
antibiotic-resistant superbugs like C. difficile, MRSA and VRE that have caused
outbreaks. The Institut national de santé publique du Québec published a
bulletin last year on steps that hospitals and long-term centres can take to
prevent C. auris outbreaks.
“The problem is if you don’t identify the fungus properly,
then it can slip in between your hands, and you can have an outbreak in your
institution without even knowing it,” Weiss explained.
There was a lot of mis-indentification of this with other
Candida (fungi); and even the automated systems in institutions that identify
bacteria and yeast were mislabelling this Candida for something else. For a
while, people were not aware of this auris. But now we know how to identify it.
“The first thing we did in Quebec – and this was for all the
microbiology labs – is we taught all the microbiologists how to properly
identify Candida auris,” Weiss continued. “All the major labs in Quebec put in
Weiss, who is president of the Quebec Association of Medical
Microbiologists, noted that under a quality assurance program, samples have
been sent to different labs to test whether the fungus is identified correctly.
The results show that that labs are detecting C. auris to a high degree.
If a patient is discovered to be infected, hospital protocol
dictates that the patient be isolated. During the patient’s hospitalization,
the housekeeping staff must disinfect the room daily with hydrogen peroxide and
other chemicals…” (H)
“Federal officials should declare an emergency over a
deadly, incurable fungus infecting people in New York, New Jersey and across
the country, Sen. Chuck Schumer said Sunday.
Schumer said he’s pushing the federal government to allocate
millions of dollars to fighting Candida auris, which is drug-resistant and
proving very difficult to eradicate…
“When it comes to the superbug, New York could use a little
more help,” said Schumer. “The CDC has the power to declare this an emergency
and automatically give us the resources we need.”..
Schumer said that an emergency declaration by the CDC would
lead to more cases being identified with better testing, and to better tracking
of the disease. It might also reduce the number of unnecessary antibiotic
prescriptions, which Schumer says have helped the disease become
Schumer cited other CDC emergency declarations that helped
stop the spread of deadly diseases, including a $25 million award to fight the
Zika virus in 2016 and $165 million given to contain Ebola in 2014.
“Every dollar we can use to better identify, tackle and
treat this deadly fungus is a dollar well spent,” Schumer said.” (I)
“Other medical experts see the overuse of human antifungal
medications in agriculture and floriculture as potential reasons for resistance
in Candida auris, known as C. auris, and possibly other fungi.
Dr. Matt McCarthy, a specialist in infectious diseases at
Weill Cornell Medicine in Manhattan, said tulips, signature flowers of the
Netherlands, are dosed with the same antifungal medications developed to treat
“Antifungals are pumped into tulips in Amsterdam to achieve
flawless plants,” he said. “As a fungal expert, I know that we have very few
antifungal medications, and this is a misuse of the drugs.”
Studies conducted at Trinity College in Ireland support
McCarthy’s argument and have demonstrated that tulip and narcissus bulbs from
the Netherlands may be vehicles that spread drug-resistant fungi.
Trinity scientists, who examined resistance in another
potentially deadly fungus, Aspergillus fumigatus, uncovered why the bugs
repelled the drugs known as triazoles. The fungi became resistant because of
the overuse of triazoles in floriculture. As with C. auris, drug-resistant A.
fumigatus can be deadly in people with poor immunity.
When patients need treatment with triazole-class
medications, the drugs don’t work because the fungi have been overexposed in
the environment, McCarthy said.
He added that the use of antifungal medications in
floriculture is similar to the overuse of antibiotics in the poultry and beef
industries, which have helped drive resistance to those drugs.
The floriculture example is just one way that drug-resistant
fungi can spread around the world. Global trade networks, human travel and the
movement of animals and crops are others.” (J)
“It will take further research to determine if the new
strains of C. auris have their origins in agriculture, but Aspergillus has
already illustrated the perils of modern farming. Antibiotics are applied on a
massive scale in food production, pushing the rise of bacterial drug
resistance. A British government study published in 2016 estimated that, within
30 years, drug-resistant infections will be a bigger killer than cancer, with
some 10 million people dying from infections every year.
We don’t have to end up there. Pesticide use on most farms
can be greatly reduced, or even eliminated, without reducing crop yields or
profitability. Methods of organic farming, even as simple as crop rotation,
tend to promote the growth of mutualistic fungi that crowd out pathogenic
strains such as C. auris. Unfortunately, because conventional agriculture is
heavily subsidized and market prices don’t reflect the costs to the environment
or human health, organic food is more expensive and faces an uphill battle for
Of course, improved technology could help, with drugs of new
kinds or in breeding and engineering resistant strains of plants. There’s also
plenty of opportunity for lightweight agricultural robots, which can weed
mechanically or spray pesticides more accurately, reducing the quantity of
chemicals used. But tech shouldn’t be the sole focus just because it happens to
be the most profitable route for big industries.” (K)
“The recent outbreak of the so-called superbug – and other
drug-resistant germs – has thrown a spotlight on locally based Xenex Disinfection
Systems. The company makes a robot that uses pulsing, ultraviolet rays to
disinfect surgical suites and other environments that are supposed to be
With the spread of C. auris, Xenex officials say they’ve
seen an uptick in queries about their LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robots, which
are in use at more than 400 health-care facilities around the world since
manufacturing started in 2011.
These devices – often called R2Clean2, Mr. Clean and The
Germinator – disinfect rooms in a matter of minutes. A dome on the top of the
robot rises up, exposing a xenon bulb that emits UV light waves that kill germs
on contaminated surfaces.
Bexar County-owned University Hospital has a fleet of six
Xenex robots. One of the robots is assigned to the Cystic Fibrosis Center to
help protect patients from infection by other patients.
“We are taking every measure possible to reduce the risk of
infections, and this is an additional layer of security that bathes the room in
UV-C light,” said Elizabeth Allen, public relations manager at University
Another study, recently published by a doctor at the
Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic, showed that when the hospital used the robots in
rooms that had already been cleaned, infection rates of another superbug –
called Clostridium difficile, or C. diff – fell by 47 percent.” (L)
“It wasn’t publicized locally, but within the past few years
teams of health officials at two Oklahoma health facilities took rapid actions
to contain the spread of a fungal “superbug” that federal officials have
declared a serious global health threat.
Only one patient at each facility was infected, and both
patients recovered. But the incidents reflect the growing alarm among health
officials over the deadly, multidrug-resistant Candida auris, or C. auris,
which can kill 30 percent to 60 percent of those infected…
In April 2017, a team of experts from the federal Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention converged on the University of Oklahoma
Medical Center in Oklahoma City after a patient tested positive for the
About a year later, a patient at a southeast Oklahoma health
facility tested positive for the germ during a routine test. In both cases,
health officials isolated the patients, locked down their rooms and ordered dozens
of lab tests to see if the multidrug-resistant fungus had spread…
Unlike with outbreaks in Illinois, New York and New Jersey,
the potentially deadly infection was quickly contained.”..
Public knowledge about the OU Medical Center case makes it
an exception. Typically, health care facilities across the nation don’t release
to the public information when C. auris and other drug-resistant pathogens are
found. No law or policy requires them to do so.
Patient-rights advocates maintain that the public has the
right to know when and where outbreaks or even single cases occur. But health
officials have routinely fought back, suggesting that it could violate patient
rights and discourage patients from seeking hospital care.
But the CDC allows states to make that decision.
Burnsed said the Department of Health tries to walk a tight
line between notifying the public and protecting the patient’s privacy.
He said he would be more likely to identify a facility if
it’s anything more than an isolated case or if officials believed the exposure
“What we consider is if there was a risk to a broader group
of individuals and if there was any evidence that there were a breach in lab
controls,” Burnsed said. “We didn’t put out anything at the time (on Oklahoma’s
two cases) because we didn’t think there was a greater risk to the public, but
it’s a good question to consider.”” (M)
“How many people will needlessly die from a deadly bug
sweeping through New York hospitals and nursing homes before local health
officials acknowledge the danger publicly – and act accordingly?..
Yet public-health officials here have been slow to let
patients know in which hospitals the bug is lurking. Folks are left to take
their chances. That’s outrageous.
Why are officials mum? Partly because they fear that if they
disclose the information, some people who need treatment won’t go for it.
That’s a weak excuse: As McCaughey notes, there are plenty
of local hospitals that aren’t plagued by Candida auris, so patients could get
care and avoid the risk, if they know where it’s safe to go.
More likely, no one wants to damage the reputations (or
incomes) of the affected hospitals. Yet the best way to protect those
reputations is to make sure the facilities are Candida auris-free…
Meanwhile, officials say they will reveal which hospitals
have the germ – in their next yearly report. But that could be months away;
patients need to know now.
If neither the hospitals nor their government regulators are
willing to move sooner, perhaps state lawmaker should step in and require them
to do so… (N)
Infectious disease experts tell Axios they agree with a dire
scenario painted in the UN report posted earlier this week saying that, if
nothing changes, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) could be “catastrophic” in its
economic and death toll.
Threat level, per the report: By 2030, up to 24 million
people could be forced into extreme poverty and annual economic damage could
resemble that from the 2008–2009 global financial crisis, if pathogens continue
becoming resistant to medications. By 2050, AMR could kill 10 million people
per year, in its worst-case scenario.
“There is no time to wait. Unless the world acts urgently,
antimicrobial resistance will have disastrous impact within a generation.”..
By the numbers: Currently, at least 700,000 people die each
year due to drug-resistant diseases, including 230,000 people from
multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, per the UN. Common diseases – like
respiratory infections, STDs and urinary tract infections – are increasingly
untreatable as the pathogens develop resistance to current medications.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says AMR
causes more than 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses in the U.S. annually…
What needs to be done: Jasarevic says the economic and
health systems of all nations must be considered, and targets made to increase
investment in new medicines, diagnostic tools, vaccines and other
The bottom line: Action must be taken to avoid a
catastrophic future.” (O)
“A recent study of patients at 10 academic hospitals in the
United States found that just over half care about what their doctors wear,
most of them preferring the traditional white coat.
Some doctors prefer the white coat, too, viewing it as a
defining symbol of the profession.
What many might not realize, though, is that health care
workers’ attire – including that seemingly “clean” white coat that many prefer
– can harbor dangerous bacteria and pathogens.
A systematic review of studies found that white coats are
frequently contaminated with strains of harmful and sometimes drug-resistant
bacteria associated with hospital-acquired infections. As many as 16 percent of
white coats tested positive for MRSA, and up to 42 percent for the bacterial
class Gram-negative rods.”
It isn’t just white coats that can be problematic. The
review also found that stethoscopes, phones and tablets can be contaminated
with harmful bacteria. One study of orthopedic surgeons showed a 45 percent
match between the species of bacteria found on their ties and in the wounds of
patients they had treated. Nurses’ uniforms have also been found to be
Among possible remedies, antimicrobial textiles can help
reduce the presence of certain kinds of bacteria, according to a randomized
study. Daily laundering of health care workers’ attire can help somewhat,
though studies show that bacteria can contaminate them within hours…
It’s a powerful symbol. But maybe tradition doesn’t have to
be abandoned, just modified. Combining bare-below-the-elbows white attire, more
frequently washed, and with more conveniently placed hand sanitizers –
including wearable sanitizer dispensers – could help reduce the spread of
Until these ideas or others are fully rolled out, one thing
we can all do right now is ask our doctors about hand sanitizing before they
make physical contact with us (including handshakes). A little reminder could
go a long way.” (P)
PART 3. May 28, 2019. CADIDA AURIS.
“Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are everywhere. If your hospital claims it
doesn’t have them, it isn’t looking hard enough.”
“So far, 12 states from coast to coast have had confirmed
cases of Candida auris, which has spread with particularly speed in New York,
which has had more than half of the nation’s infections.
Some are even calling for the federal government to declare
a national state of emergency and fund better containment of the fungus.
Health officials there are scrambling to contain what the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have deemed an emerging health
threat, but without stricter guidelines and screening, the fungus will only get
Doctors sometimes struggle to diagnose fungal infections, in
part because their symptoms are little different from those of bacterial
‘Candida auris has the ability to develop resistance and has
developed mechanisms to survive,’..
‘It’s at least starting to figure that out, and that’s
There are really only three antifungal medications in the
US, so it doesn’t take long for a fungus to become wholly drug resistant.
Dr Chiller says that approximately 90 percent of strains the
CDC has logged are resistant to the first-line drug, another third are
resistant to a second, and between 20 and 30 percent of Candida auris
infections have acquired multi-drug resistance.
‘Some are pan-resistant and those need to be isolated and
stopped and we need to try to prevent them from developing,’ he says.
Neither the CDC, other nation’s health officials or any of
the 12 affected states have been able to work out where the fungus came from,
or how exactly it has spread from state-to-state…
If states don’t require their hospitals to report cases the
fungal infection, the CDC may be severely underestimating the number of cases
across the country.
‘It’s a bit of an uphill battle and it needs to be a really
concerted effort on multiple tiers of the health care system,’ Dr Chiller says…
‘We need to stay on top of it and not let our guard
“New York State health officials are considering rigorous
new requirements for hospitals and nursing homes to prevent the spread of a
deadly drug-resistant fungus called Candida auris.
The requirements could include mandatory pre-admission
screening of patients believed to be at-risk and placing in isolation those
patients who are infected, or even those just carrying the fungus on their
Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, and a
fungal expert from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention met
last Friday in Manhattan with nearly 60 hospital officials from across the
state to discuss the proposed guidelines. State health officials said they were
seeking hospital input before issuing the guidelines, which they acknowledged
would likely be a hardship for some institutions.
“One of our guiding objectives is to stop the geographic
spread,” said Brad Hutton, the state’s deputy commissioner of public health. He
said the state’s efforts to contain the spread have required significant
resources — including sending individual infection specialists to investigate
more than 150 cases — and that New York now needs help from individual
“We’re at a point where our response strategy needs to
change,” he said. He added that he hoped the guidelines would be finalized by
the end of the year, but said the state is still determining whether to apply
them statewide or just to New York City and surrounding areas. It has yet to be
decided whether the guidelines would be recommendations or regulatory
requirements, he said…
For the moment…. hospitals are pre-screening many patients
who appear to be at risk. But it can take a week to get skin-swab results back
from the state laboratory, posing challenges for housing patients in isolation
during the interim. Further, she said, regular testing is likely to turn up
patients who are carriers but not infected, increasing the number of patients
who require isolation, appropriately or not.”..
For now, much of the burden for surveillance has fallen to
the state. The effort has involved the development of a fast-screening test
that can analyze a skin swab in a matter of hours. But all hospitals, for the
moment, have to send those tests to a state laboratory in Albany and wait
several days before receiving the results, though hospitals say the backlog
means tests can take a week.” (B)
“Unlike cholesterol drugs taken by millions of people for
their entire lives, or $100,000 cancer drugs designed to prolong life,
antibiotics are short-term drugs with limited shelf lives.
“Antibiotics are not valued by society as a high-value
product, so they’re not priced very high,” said Gregory Frank, director of infectious
disease policy at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, in a phone
A 2014 paper.. cited a London School of Economics study
showing that while a new arthritis drug’s net present value – a measure of a
drug’s net value over the ensuing decades – would be $1 billion, that of a new
antibiotic would be negative $50 million…
People will buy innovative products in almost any other part
of the economy, but doctors will still keep even the most innovative antibiotic
behind the glass and use it only in the most dire circumstances.
“Antibiotic stewardship is a good thing, but devastating for
the company developing it,” Outterson said…
Jersey City, New Jersey-based Scynexis is one company
developing a treatment for drug-resistant fungal infections, ibrexafungerp,
currently in several clinical trials, including one for C. auris. The company
plans to file its first approval application with the FDA for ibrexafungerp
next year. The drug is expected cost $450-600 per day, in line with the pricing
of other antifungals, said company CEO Marco Taglietti, in a phone interview…
The race against drug-resistant infectious is ultimately a
scientific one. It’s not about finding
better treatments, but newer ones in an endless war that requires always
staying one step ahead of ever-evolving germs, Taglietti said. On the one hand,
it’s important to practice good stewardship in order to delay resistance.
“But that creates a big challenge from an economic point of
view – from the moment you launch your product after spending several hundreds
of millions to develop it, it doesn’t sell,” he said.
The problem appears to be a vicious cycle of science and
economics: Even existing push incentives, however generous, don’t make up for
antibiotics’ lack of the large and chronic patient populations of
cardiovascular disease drugs or the high prices of cancer drugs.” (C)
“Demanding that hospitals release lists of every superbug
they find within their walls, however, as many transparency advocates want, is
not the answer. The irony is that the hospitals that see the most superbugs are
often the best ones we have, for the simple reason that they have the most
sophisticated diagnostic platforms, the most powerful antibiotics and the
experts to administer them.
Compelling a world-class hospital like Massachusetts General
Hospital, where I saw my first superbug as a medical student, to reveal a
microbe list would only freak patients out. It wouldn’t explain where the
microbes came from, whether any patients were infected, and how they were
In a worst-case scenario, more transparency could lead to
patients avoiding medical care out of a misplaced fear of encountering
drug-resistant bacteria. Hospitals might start refusing patients with certain
infections, especially those coming from nursing facilities where these
microbes are common, out of a concern that the patient’s bacteria could be
added to the list. This would do everyone a disservice: Patients wouldn’t
receive optimal care and superbugs would multiply.
But hospital administrators and government officials do need
to be honest about the microbes in our medical centers and explain what is
really going on. No comment will no longer suffice. People have questions and
this story is not going away. To ensure that patients are well-informed,
hospitals should train spokesmen to address these issues and states should
revisit their reluctance to disclose information. Above all, health care
workers and administrators should speak openly about the measures their
hospitals are already employing to keep people safe.
I’m not particularly interested in the microbes that dwell
inside of a given hospital; what matters is whether its employees follow the
strict protocols that prevent these organisms from going where they shouldn’t…
Silence and evasion gives the perception that this is a
problem spiraling out of control when, in fact, it’s not. An intricate tracking
system exists so that epidemiologists across the country can monitor any
outbreaks to ensure that proper protocols and containment strategies are
implemented. We need to hear more from these superbug hunters.” (D)
“A new study published in the Journal of Occupational and
Environmental Health has established protocols for containing the drug
resistant Candida auris (C. auris ) in an animal facility, and by doing so, has
identified four simple rules that can potentially be adopted by healthcare
facilities to limit exposure to staff and patients. The study found that their
double personal protective equipment (PPE), work ‘buddy’ system, disinfection
and biomonitoring protocols were effective at containing high levels of C.
auris infection within their animal facility, even six months after their
Before entering the animal holding and procedure rooms,
staff donned a second layer of booties, gloves and gowns, which were later
removed and placed in biohazard bins before exiting the rooms. Handling of
infected cages and equipment was restricted to biosafety cabinets where a buddy
system was implemented so that one person handed clean cages and supplies to a
second person working inside the contaminated biosafety cabinet. This
system-controlled workflow from clearly defined ‘clean’ to ‘dirty’ areas and
allowed workers to monitor each other to ensure proper procedures were
followed. Surfaces and equipment that came in contact with infected mice or
tissues were treated with a strict disinfection protocol of 10% bleach followed
(after five minutes) by 70% ethanol. The effectiveness of the workflow and
protocols were continually monitored using swab testing on surfaces suspected
to be contaminated, and as a second measure, Sabbaroud dextrose plates were
placed inside the biosafety cabinet and on the floor underneath to determine
whether C. auris was aerosolised within the cabinet or whether any debris
contaminated the floor.
The researchers found that possible contamination came from
direct contact with the infected mice or tissues but not from aerosolisation.”
“A pernicious disease is eating away at Roy Petteway’s
orange trees. The bacterial infection, transmitted by a tiny winged insect from
China, has evaded all efforts to contain it, decimating Florida’s citrus
industry and forcing scores of growers out of business.
In a last-ditch attempt to slow the infection, Mr. Petteway
revved up his industrial sprayer one recent afternoon and doused the trees with
a novel pesticide: antibiotics used to treat syphilis, tuberculosis, urinary
tract infections and a number of other illnesses in humans…
The use of antibiotics on citrus adds a wrinkle to an
intensifying debate about whether the heavy use of antimicrobials in
agriculture endangers human health by neutering the drugs’ germ-slaying
abilities. Much of that debate has focused on livestock farmers, who use 80
percent of antibiotics sold in the United States.
Although the research on antibiotic use in crops is not as
extensive, scientists say the same dynamic is already playing out with the
fungicides that are liberally sprayed on vegetables and flowers across the
world. Researchers believe the surge in a drug-resistant lung infection called
aspergillosis is associated with agricultural fungicides, and many suspect the
drugs are behind the rise of Candida auris, a deadly fungal infection.” (F)
“A large Candida
auris outbreak at a hospital in England appears to be linked to reusable
patient-monitoring equipment, a team of researchers reports today in the New
England Journal of Medicine.
The outbreak in the neurosciences intensive care unit (ICU)
at Oxford University Hospitals involved 70 patients who were infected or
colonized with C auris, a fungus that has become increasingly resistant to
azoles, echinocandins, and polyenes—the three classes of antifungals used to
treat infections caused by Candida and other fungal species.
An epidemiologic investigation and case-control study by
investigators from the University of Oxford, Public Health England, and
elsewhere found that the most compelling explanation for the prolonged outbreak
was the persistence of the organism on reusable skin-surface axillary probes, a
device placed in a patient’s armpit for continuous temperature monitoring.
“Our results indicate that reusable patient equipment may
serve as a source of healthcare-associated outbreaks of infection with C.
auris,” the authors of the study write.” (G)
PART 4. CANDIDA AURIS. “.. nursing facilities, and
long-term hospitals, are…continuously cycling infected patients, or those who
carry the germ, into hospitals and back again.”
“Maria Davila lay mute in a nursing home bed, an anguished
expression fixed to her face, as her husband stroked her withered hand. Ms.
Davila, 65, suffers from a long list of ailments — respiratory failure, kidney
disease, high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat — and is kept alive by a
gently beeping ventilator and a feeding tube.
Doctors recently added another diagnosis to her medical
chart: Candida auris, a highly contagious, drug-resistant fungus that has
infected nearly 800 people since it arrived in the United States four years
ago, with half of patients dying within 90 days.
At least 38 other patients at Ms. Davila’s nursing home,
Palm Gardens Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Brooklyn, have been
infected with or carry C. auris, a germ so virulent and hard to eradicate that
some facilities will not accept patients with it…
Much of the blame for the rise of drug-resistant infections
like C. auris, as well as efforts to combat them, has focused on the overuse of
antibiotics in humans and livestock, and on hospital-acquired infections. But
public health experts say that nursing facilities, and long-term hospitals, are
a dangerously weak link in the health care system, often understaffed and
ill-equipped to enforce rigorous infection control, yet continuously cycling
infected patients, or those who carry the germ, into hospitals and back again.”
“A team of doctors at Lenox Hill Hospital has reported that
a patient at their facility lost an eye due to panophthalmitis, which was
caused by a Candida auris infection. In their report published in the Annals of
Internal Medicine, the group describes the patient, his symptoms and treatment…
In this new finding, a 30-year-old male patient came to the
trauma center at Lenox Hill Hospital complaining of eye pain and loss of vision
in one eye. He was diagnosed with panophthalmitis—a condition, not a disease—in
which the entire eye becomes inflamed. The doctors treating him reported that
the eye was damaged beyond repair. They removed it and cleaned up the socket.
Lab tests showed that the inflammation was due to Candida auris—the first such
infection of its kind seen in the eye. The doctors also noted that the patient
did not have a compromised immune system despite having syphilis and HIV. After
dispensing treatment aimed at eradicating the fungus, the patient was
discharged with instructions to return for a follow-up. But he did not do so,
thus it is not known if the infection was fully cleared, or if the patient
infected anyone else.” (B)
“A relatively new
fungus has scientists scratching their heads in 30 countries, including India.
Called Candida auris (C. auris), it has become a red flag for the medical
community. Why? C. auris is drug-resistant, it can survive almost anywhere –
even on sterilized medical equipment – and it is increasingly causing
infections in patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
Normally Candida, a species of fungus, causes the most
superficial skin infections and can be treated with over-the-counter drugs. C.
auris, by contrast, does not respond well to antifungal drugs – not only is C.
auris resistant to most medicines, it is actually more likely to affect
patients who are given antifungal drugs to prevent common Candida infections.
First isolated in japan in 2009, C. auris was originally
thought to cause ear infections. Since then, scientists have discovered that it
is more invasive – and deadly. In India, the first cases of C. auris infection
came to light in 2011.
According to the US-based Centres of Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC), there’s a higher chance of C. auris infection in patients in
a hospital set-up, and among those fitted with a central venous catheter and
other devices which go inside the body. CDC data also show that patients who
have received antibacterial or antifungal drugs are at the highest risk of C.
auris infection than those who have not. The CDC says that 30-60% of patients
infected with C. auris infection die, however, most had a prior serious illness
with a compromised immune system…
“What makes C. auris
even more dangerous is that it can grow in all kinds of places – dry areas,
moist places, plastic surfaces, and sterilized areas and equipment,” said Dr
Archana Nirula, medical officer, myUpchar.com…
It’s an understatement to say that C. auris is quirky. Even
as scientists are throwing all their weight behind research to find a cure,
doctors are banking on good old hygiene and echinocandins – an antifungal drug
that seems to work in select cases of C. auris infection. ICMR has even
recommended that doctors schedule any interventional procedures for C.
auris-infected patients at the end of the day – C. auris can survive
sterilization and the infection can spread to other patients through medical
“When this deadly fungus first emerged in America, it was
not disclosed to the public for a lengthy period of time. Then, when details of
deaths in hospitals due to the superbug went public, the national news media
reacted but then went silent. Why?…
“Who’s speaking up for the baby that got the flu from the
hospital worker or for the patient who got MRSA from a bedrail? The idea isn’t
to embarrass or humiliate anyone, but if we don’t draw more attention to
infectious disease outbreaks, nothing is going to change,” Arthur Caplan, PhD…
“The average person
calls Candida infections yeast infections,” William Schaffner, MD, Professor
and Chair, Department of Preventative Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical
Center, told Prevention. “However, Candida auris infections are much more
serious than your standard yeast infection. They’re a variety of so-called
superbugs [that] can complicate the therapy of very sick people.”
The CDC reports that, as of May 31, 2019, there have been a
total of 685 cases of C. auris reported in the US. The majority of those cases
occurred in Illinois (180), New Jersey (124), and New York (336). Twenty more
cases were reported in Florida, and eight other states—California, Connecticut,
Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia—each had less
than 10 confirmed cases of C. auris.
The CDC states the infection seems to be most prominent
among populations that have had extended stays in hospitals or nursing
facilities. Patients who have had lines or tubes such as breathing tubes,
feeding tubes, or central venous catheters entering their body, and those who
have recently been given antibiotics or antifungal medications, seem to be the
most vulnerable to contracting C. auris…
The fungus typically attacks people who are already sick or
have weakened immune systems, which can make it challenging to diagnose, the
CDC notes. C. auris infections are typically diagnosed with special clinical
laboratory testing of blood specimens or other body fluids. Infections have
been found in patients of all ages, from infants to the elderly…
The CDC states that it and its public health partners are
working hard to discover more about this fungus, and to devise ways to protect
people from contracting it. Average healthy people probably don’t need to worry
about becoming infected with Candida auris. However, individuals who are at
high risk, and healthcare professionals, microbiologists, and pathologists,
should be on the alert for this new superbug strain of fungus.” (D)
“A new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) warns health care organizations and providers that overseas
hospitalization and carbapenemase-producing organism (CPO) colonization or
infection should be seen as warning signs for the presence of Candida auris.
The warning, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality
Weekly Report, comes after a case in Maryland last September in which a patient
was admitted to the hospital with multiple CPO colonizations/infections. The
patient had previously spent a month in a Kenyan hospital after suffering a
cerebral hemorrhage while visiting the African country…
The CDC recommends that anyone who has been hospitalized
overnight overseas in the past 12 months be screened for C auris. The agency
also recommends contact precautions and CPO screening for any patient with an
overnight overseas hospital stay in the previous 6 months.
Richard B. Brooks, MD, of the Division of Healthcare Quality
Promotion at the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious
Diseases, told Contagion® that overseas
travel is an important risk factor for C auris, but he said awareness of the
link between C auris and receiving care overseas varies from hospital to
hospital and provider to provider.
In the case of the Maryland patient, public health officials
were already on alert since the health department had previously found CPOs and
C auris in a patient who had been hospitalized in India.
Unfortunately, Brooks said, many hospitals miss
opportunities for screening because they are unaware that a patient has
If a patient is indicated for C auris screening, Brooks
cautioned that most routine hospital testing platforms can easily misidentify C
auris, and he noted that commercial testing is not currently available to
hospitals. However, Brooks said the CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Laboratory
Network will perform the test free of charge. Health care facilities can
request testing through their state health departments. The test itself is
simple, he said.
“Screening for C auris colonization requires gently rubbing
a cotton swab over a patient’s skin in their axillae (armpits) and groin areas,
and is not particularly difficult, invasive, or time-consuming,” he said.” (E)
“Prevention of invasive Candida infections requires
antibiotic stewardship, improved maintenance practices for central venous
catheters, and targeted antifungal prophylaxis.
Multidrug-resistant Candida auris is an urgent antimicrobial
resistance threat and the key method of C auris prevention is strict adherence
to infection control measures, according to a short opinion paper published in
the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Unlike other Candida spp, C auris is commonly transmitted between
patients in healthcare settings and primarily colonizes the skin and nares.
Currently, there are no known strategies for C auris decolonization…
Although early identification is key to controlling C auris
transmission, “many laboratories lack mycology capacity, and those that have it
may not routinely determine yeast species, even in sterile site isolates”
according to the researchers.
Antibiotic stewardship, improved maintenance practices for
central venous catheters, and targeted antifungal prophylaxis are all required
for preventing invasive Candida infections; however, the key difference for C
auris prevention is strict adherence to infection control measures.
While much more needs to be learned about C auris,
“preventing the spread of this organism is a priority that requires bolstering
laboratory detection capacity, strengthening public health surveillance, and
improving infection control practices, especially in postacute care settings,”
concluded the researchers.” (F)
“In any other year, it seems, this would be big news: A
drug-resistant yeast is spreading around the world, behaving like a cross
between a fungus and a bacterium. It lodges itself so tenaciously in hospital
environments that cleanups can resemble demolitions. It can’t be easily
identified with standard laboratory methods, and it kills 30% to 60% of the
people it infects.
The yeast, Candida auris, “is a creature from the black
lagoon,” according to Dr. Tom Chiller, who heads the Mycotic Diseases
Branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the 20th
Congress of the International Society for Human and Animal Mycology in
Amsterdam in 2018, he also noted that C. auris is ” more infectious than
Ebola.” Indeed, by the end of May C. auris had been reported in more than
30 countries, according to the CDC.
This sounds like the stuff of nightmares, or material for an
update to the 2011 medical action thriller, “Contagion.”
Surprisingly, Chiller seems unperturbed about the secrecy,
stating that C. auris “is not something I want the general public to go
home and be concerned about.”..
This is why transparency is critical. When Chiller and
others argue that the general public doesn’t need to be concerned about C.
auris, they are drawing a distinction between concerns of public health and
matters of personal health. Obviously these are different, but they are also
Secrecy in medicine has a long and sordid history, including
the familiar scandals around experimentation, mistakes and malpractice, and
price gouging. Healthcare, pharmaceutical, and agricultural organizations, ever
sensitive to their reputations and the bottom line, respond to public
The considerations by New York State health officials were
reported by the New York Times last week. The newspaper reported that Howard
Zucker, M.D., the state health commissioner, and a fungal expert from the
federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention met this month with nearly
60 hospitals to discuss possible guidelines.
New York has handled 331 cases of C. auris since it was
first identified in 2009. It spreads easily, is extremely resistant to drug
treatments, is hard to kill on surfaces and may spread in the air. While
scientists are working on ways to short-circuit the fungus itself, New York
wants to stop the costly geographic spread.
“We’re at a point where our response strategy needs to
change,” Brad Hutton, the state’s deputy commissioner of public health, told
the Times. He said it remains undecided whether final guidelines, expected by
year’s end, would apply statewide or only in New York City.
Hospitals and other providers have raised concerns about the
cost and capacity for rapid testing, while isolation for carriers who aren’t
actively infected could take away beds needed by others.” (H)
“”To keep that a secret is putting people in
danger,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, a Columbia University professor with an
expertise in Public Health policy. “And I don’t think that’s reasonable or
Palm Centers declined comment on repeated questions by
Eyewitness News regarding the presence of Candida auris at the facility.
The New York State Department of Health provided a statement
about its efforts to contain the bug.
“The Department of Health has made controlling the spread
of C. auris a top priority and has conducted extensive training and education
on infection control policies and procedures for Palm Gardens and other nursing
home providers throughout this region. We take complaints regarding quality of
care extremely seriously and ensure all appropriate steps to protect the health
and well-being of nursing home residents,” said Jeffrey Hammond, NY
Department of Health spokesperson.
Hammond added that a list of facilities with C. auris cases
will be released later this year in the 2018 Hospital Acquired Infection