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High Rates Of C. Diff Found At 3 Florida Hospitals

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
High Rates Of C. Diff Found At 3 Florida Hospitals
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

C. Diff is a potentially deadly bacteria that killed 29,000 people last year – and too many people are catching the bacteria at Florida hospitals.

According to a Consumer Reports examination of federal health data, three hospitals in Florida are not meeting national benchmarks for C. Diff: UF Health Shands in Gainesville, Baptist Medical Center Beaches in Jacksonville and Orlando Health.

The bacteria is notoriously tough to kill: It produces spores resistant to common cleaners. But officials say a multi-pronged approach can be effective, including limiting the prescriptions of antibiotics and heartburn medications, vigilant hand washing, and proper sterilization of rooms between patients.

Dr. Thomas Kelly, chief of clinical quality and transformation at Orlando Health, said the hospital has been trying to lower their rates for years. They see more patients coming into the hospital with C. Diff they caught in the community.

“But the second important thing we learned, in our enthusiasm to make sure we identify any potential case of C. Diff, and wanting to prevent spreading that to another patient, we were over-testing our patients,” Kelly said.

Related: Check here for a story on a novel cure for C. Diff: Stool transplants

In other words: The hospital was identifying people who have the bacteria, but don’t have symptoms and aren’t likely to spread it.

Orlando Health was one of 19 teaching hospitals singled out for their rates. Kelley said teaching hospitals see sicker patients who are more vulnerable to C. Diff.

But, “We don’t accept that as an excuse as an institution,” Kelley said. “The line that our patients are sicker really doesn’t factor into our approach to dealing with this problem. Regardless of how sick our patients are, they come to us for a reason. So we have to double down our efforts and go above and beyond what other institutions are doing.”

Eve Early, corporate director of infection prevention and control at Orlando Health, said Consumer Reports is using data that’s old, from 2014 to 2015. The hospital has made improvements, she said.

“We’ve cut our rates almost in half during the last quarter,” Early said. “And we’ve done a lot of things to work on that. We have a program called HEATED, and each of those letters stand for one of the components we think are critical in reducing C. Diff.”

Specifically, HEATED focuses on:

Hand hygiene, using soap and water with friction to remove C diff spores.

Effective Environmental cleaning to kill the spores

Antibiotic Stewardship, with strategies for reduction of overall antibiotic use and appropriate use of heartburn medications

Testing with a purpose, to ensure Orlando Health is selecting the right patients for testing

Equipment cleaning protocols

Donning and doffing of gowns and gloves the right way to reduce the risk of contamination and potential transmission.

Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami got a kudos from Consumer Reports: They were one of only two teaching hospitals nationwide to beat the benchmark for C. Diff.

WMFE is a partner with Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Health reporting on WMFE is supported in part by Florida Hospital and the Winter Park Health Foundation.

Health News Florida reporter Abe Aboraya works for WMFE in Orlando. He started writing for newspapers in high school. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe worked as a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal. He comes from a family of health care workers.