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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

Patient Safety Has Suffered During COVID-19 Pandemic

By Jill Drachenberg, Editor, Relias Media

The COVID-19 pandemic has strained the U.S. healthcare system to the breaking point. Hospitals scrambled to care for surges of COVID-19 patients that overwhelmed their emergency departments and other areas. Long hours and staffing shortages stretched healthcare workers thin.

Amid these crises, the healthcare system has seen an alarming increase in healthcare-associated infections and other patient safety issues — all but wiping out pre-pandemic safety improvements, according to authors from The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the five years preceding the pandemic, central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSI) declined by 31%. These gains were nearly wiped out in 2020, with a 28% increase in CLABSI over the same period in 2019. Catheter-association urinary tract infections increased by 43%, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus cases rose by 44%. Skilled nursing facilities saw a 41.8% increase in pressure ulcer rates, and a 17.4% increase in falls causing major injury.

The pandemic’s strain on the healthcare system meant healthcare workers did not have time for the usual safety practices, such as rounds and error reporting, the authors posited. They also maintain the rise in patient safety issues is indicative of failures in the healthcare system overall.

“The fact that the pandemic degraded patient safety so quickly and severely suggests that our health care system lacks a sufficiently resilient safety culture and infrastructure,” the authors wrote. “We believe the pandemic and the breakdown it has caused present an opportunity and an obligation to re-evaluate healthcare safety with an eye toward building a more resilient health care delivery system, capable not only of achieving safer routine care but also of maintaining high safety levels in times of crisis.”

CMS and the CDC are collaborating to expand collection of patient safety data, including maternal health and mental health. They also are creating safety metrics that use data from electronic health records, capturing data from across all healthcare payers.

“We seek to join leaders from throughout the health care ecosystem in reviewing safety practices and seeking better and more deeply embedded solutions that also help to close health disparities, since there is no true health care quality and safety without equity,” the authors wrote.