MRSA Almost Destroyed in Pittsburgh

Some very positive steps are being taken in one Pittsburgh hospital, notable because they were taken on the intiative of the hospital and not because a gun was being held to the head of the decision-makers.

This article from the NY Times makes me stand up to cheer. It tells about the efforts of the Veterans Affairs Hospital to eradicate MRSA and other superbug infections. They do so by swabbing the noses of patients before they are admitted to the hospital to determine whether those patients are already infected before they arrive. Those who are infected are then isolated in the hospital, and their providers and caretakers must wear gloves and gowns, plus clean themselves with foamy sanitizers, before they can visit the patient. Everything from blood pressure cuffs to stethoscopes are either disposed of or sanitized after use with these patients.

Infections at the hospital have dropped 78 percent since they started two years ago.

The Centers for Disease Control states that up to 99,000 Americans die from infections they’ve picked up while staying in a hospital — not whatever was wrong with them when they were admitted. This one hospital’s experience shows us that 78,000 of those lives might have been saved.

You see? It can be done! Big cheers for the Veteran’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. And — realization that in many countries of Europe, MRSA and other superbug hospital acquired infections have all but been eradicated already by taking similar measures.

All this reminds me of a conversation I had earlier this week with Bob, a friend who has the ability to stop me in my tracks by observations he makes. He is a voracious reader and often sees the world from angles you and I don’t stop to consider. In a conversation about my work in general, I stated to him, “I don’t think any doctor or any provider ever intends to harm a patient. Mistakes happen for a lot of reasons and care is substandard for a lot of reasons, but no provider wants to hurt a patient.”

Bob’s reply? “Of course they do. If infections can be stopped just by washing hands, then why do studies show that doctors and other providers don’t wash their hands? If they thought it through for a minute, then they would realize that each time they don’t wash their hands, they are making the choice to hurt or kill a patient.”

Ouch. But — it can’t be argued. And far be it from me to suggest otherwise.


If you are a patient who will be admitted to a hospital, or the loved one of a soon-to-be-hospitalized patient, then find the 15 steps you can take to keep from acquiring MRSA or any other superbug at

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1 thought on “MRSA Almost Destroyed in Pittsburgh”

  1. I disagree with your friend Bob. That is a simplistic way of thinking. It is imbuing people’s actions with intentions that may or may not be present. With that kind of thinking there are no accidents. Are the Chinese trying to poison the world because they have too much lead in their paint? I think not. The NY Times article failed to mention the all-important “HOW” MRSA was battled at the VA in Pittsburgh. They were part of a national intiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in partnership with the Plexus Institute, Center for Disease Control, the Veterans Health Administration and the Positive Deviance Initiative to prevent MRSA infections in healthcare facilities employing the Positive Deviance (PD) approach. A cultural change occurred and co-created a climate in which everyone in the hospital – janitors, van drivers, clerks, room cleaners, kitchen staff, pastoral staff, as well as medical personnel collaborated together to find solutions. More information can be found at

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Trisha Torrey
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