Salem Hospital has reduced many infections and has begun additional improvements

The state’s new report, Oregon Healthcare Acquired Infections 2009-2011, shows that Salem Hospital continues its successes in almost eliminating infections that occur from open-heart (coronary artery bypass graft) surgery, and that colon surgery, abdominal hysterectomy, and central-line associated bloodstream infections are lower than the state and the nation.

The hospital’s data for 2012 shows marked improvement in the areas of hip and knee replacement, and the hospital’s recent recognition as a Joint Replacement Center of Excellence shows that coordinated efforts will culminate in more successes.

“Our goal is to reach zero hospital-acquired infections for all patients,” said Leah Mitchell, RN, vice president of kaizen, quality and safety at Salem Health. “The release of this report gives patients an opportunity to learn about our increased efforts that are resulting in even more improvement.”

Mitchell was director of the Salem Hospital’s critical care department in 2011 when it was the only hospital in Oregon awarded the first-ever sustained improvement award by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for achievement in eliminating ventilator-associated pneumonia and central-line associated bloodstream infections in the adult intensive care unit.

Since 2010, the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit had zero central-line associated bloodstream infections. In 2012, the adult ICU has now had one, an improvement from two in 2011 and three in 2010.

What should always be most important to consumers is what is happening at a hospital at the time they are seeking surgery. Salem Hospital has put in place several measures to address current infections. Those include:

  • Focused leadership and guidance in surgical services and infection prevention. Brian Dawson, RN, was hired in September 2011 as Salem Hospital’s first vice president of surgical services. Dawson came to Salem after 28 years in Navy medicine where he served in numerous perioperative and health-care leadership positions. With more than 1,100 surgeries performed each month at Salem Hospital it is critical to have someone with this type of experience. Dawson brought on board a clinical nurse specialist to provide consultations based on the latest research and leadership in innovative changes to patient care.
  • Increased attention. In 2011, when infections rose in hip and knee replacements and laminectomy, Dawson and Infection Prevention Manager Nancy O’Connor increased attention to working directly with surgeons and staff to identify possible causes and make changes quickly.

The results so far for 2012 show this attention has worked. Hip replacement infections have decreased by 75 percent and knee replacement infections have decreased by 65 percent. Efforts will continue with the intention of reducing those infections to zero.

Laminectomies are now the focus, with surgeons and staff fully supporting the work. “Although those numbers have not reduced to the same level,” said Dawson, “we believe that based on the success in the other areas we will see the same improvements with this surgery as well.”

Hospital patients are an important part of their own care team and have a role to play in preventing infections. Things patients can do to protect themselves include:

  • Taking all the pre-hospitalization infection prevention steps their doctor recommends, such as pre-surgical chlorhexidine baths, not shaving before surgery and stopping smoking.
  • Asking all their health-care providers and visitors to wash or sanitize their hands, especially when they enter or leave a patient’s room.
  • Taking antibiotics and other medications exactly as directed by their doctor.
  • Asking their visitors to stay home if they are sick in any way.

Salem Health is comprised of Salem Hospital, West Valley Hospital, Willamette Health Partners and other affiliated health care organizations offering exceptional care to people in and around Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley. Visit us at and; follow us on Twitter: @salemhealth; and view us at