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Is a Hospital-Related MRSA Infection Grounds for a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

February 12, 2024

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MRSA infections are one of the biggest risk factors of hospital stays, especially in people who had surgery or who are recovering from serious injuries and wounds. While they start as skin infections, they can quickly worsen and cause life-threatening infections in tissue, bones, and organs throughout the body.

According to a 2020 study published in the National Library of Medicine, there are more than 80,000 new hospital-acquired MRSA cases every year in the U.S. Because hospitals are supposed to be places where people go to get better, the idea of contracting a life-threatening infection while being treated in one can make many patients and their families wonder if they can sue for medical malpractice if they develop a MRSA infection while hospitalized.

When hospitals fail to take the necessary and recommended precautions to protect patients, they open themselves up to liability, including medical malpractice claims and lawsuits, when patients develop these infections.

In this blog, we’ll explain what MRSA infections are, how they spread, how hospitals can reduce their transmission, and when they can be held liable when patients contract them.

What Is MRSA?

MRSA stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and it’s a type of bacterial infection that is resistant to several common antibiotics. This resistance makes MRSA infections more difficult to treat than other bacterial infections.

MRSA is caused by a strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, commonly known as staph. Staph bacteria are found on the skin or in the nose of healthy individuals without causing any problems. However, when they do cause infection, they can lead to a range of issues, from minor skin infections to life-threatening diseases.

What Are the Complications of MRSA?

What makes MRSA distinct is its resistance to methicillin, a common antibiotic used to treat staph infections. This resistance also extends to other antibiotics in the same class, including oxacillin, penicillin, and amoxicillin.

MRSA infections can occur anywhere on the body. They often start as painful, swollen, red bumps that might look like pimples or spider bites. These can quickly turn into deep, painful abscesses that require surgical draining. The bacteria can also burrow deep into the body, infecting bones, joints, surgical wounds, the bloodstream, heart valves, and lungs.

How Is MRSA Spread?

MRSA can spread through direct contact with an infected wound or by sharing personal items, like towels or razors, that have touched infected skin. MRSA is also a concern in hospitals and healthcare facilities, where it can spread on the hands of healthcare workers or on contaminated surfaces.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says around 5% of patients in U.S. hospitals carry MRSA in their noses or on their skin. The percentage of healthcare workers in hospitals who carry the bacteria is similar. Because hospitals typically have hundreds of workers and patients, multiple people may carry MRSA at any given time, making it easily spread.

Can Hospitals Prevent the Spread of MRSA?

Although MRSA is commonplace in hospitals, there are certain protocols they can follow to reduce its spread and keep patients safe:

  • Hand Hygiene: This is the most effective way to prevent the spread of infections. Hospitals enforce strict handwashing protocols for all healthcare workers before and after interacting with each patient.
  • Screening and Isolation: Patients known or suspected to have MRSA can be isolated. Hospitals may conduct screenings for MRSA, especially in high-risk units like intensive care, to identify and isolate infected patients.
  • Clean Environment: Regular and thorough cleaning of hospital environments, including patient rooms, operating rooms, and common areas, using disinfectants effective against MRSA.
  • Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Healthcare workers wear appropriate PPE, such as gloves and gowns, when treating patients with MRSA to prevent skin and clothing contact with MRSA bacteria.
  • Education and Training: Continuous education and training for healthcare workers and hospital staff about MRSA and infection control practices.
  • Patient Education: Educating patients and their families about MRSA, including prevention strategies, especially for those at higher risk or with open wounds.

What Happens When Hospitals Fail to Take Precautions Against MRSA?

In Ohio, hospitals can potentially be held liable for medical malpractice if patients develop MRSA infections, but this depends on specific circumstances. To establish liability, it must be proven that the hospital failed to meet the standard of care expected in preventing the infection and that this failure directly led to a patient contracting MRSA. This involves demonstrating negligence in practices such as hygiene, patient care, or infection control measures.

For example, a patient may undergo surgery in a hospital and develop a MRSA infection. Later, an investigation might reveal that the operating room used for the surgery was not sterilized and the surgical instruments were contaminated with MRSA. Additionally, evidence might show hospital staff didn’t follow hygiene protocols, such as handwashing and use of personal protective equipment.

Due to the hospital’s lack of diligence, the patient suffers severe complications from the MRSA infection, leading to prolonged hospitalization and additional treatments. Because the hospital failed to take the necessary precautions, they and/or their loved ones may be able to file a medical malpractice claim against the hospital.

Thankfully, preventing MRSA infections is now a major priority for most hospitals in Ohio. However, that doesn’t mean the protocol for preventing these infections is always followed correctly or at all. Sometimes, doctors, surgeons, nurses, and other healthcare workers may skip steps or perform them carelessly, and that can put their patients at an unnecessarily elevated level of risk.

If you or someone you love developed a MRSA infection during or shortly after a hospital stay, it may be because the hospital failed to take the necessary precautions. The Ohio medical malpractice attorneys at Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy have helped many people who were harmed by negligent hospitals and healthcare workers, and we want to help you, too. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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