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An alarmingly high number of hospital acquired infections were reported at the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care nursery last year, says Dr. Michael Henderson, chief medical officer at UMMC.

The unit recorded 18 central line associated bloodstream infections. Those infections are streamed directly from an IV or drip that is inserted into the veins of sick babies needing food and constant medicine.

The medical center also received a F-rating last year by The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit independent organization that reports annual hospital safety scores for adult and pediatric general acute-care hospitals in the United States.

But something as seemingly simple as hand washing and sanitary foaming can start solving the problem.

UMMC is modeling its new hand washing routine after the Targeted Solutions Tool, an innovative application that guides healthcare organizations to overcoming particular barriers within their facilities.

According to Targeted Solutions Tool data, at least 130 different hospital acquired infections may be prevented, the mortality rate will decrease and the hospital will save at least $2.3 million dollars in direct medical costs.

“Hand hygiene is easy to say and not so easy to do,” says Henderson.

The center installed additional foaming stations and hand hygiene posters in all clinical and common areas to remind employees as well as patients and visitors of their part in the responsibility of decreasing infections, says Henderson.

We tell them to sing a song like Mary Had a Little Lamb while washing, says Lisa Lathem, director of infection prevention at UMMC.

“After they dry, they are to use the paper towel to refrain from making contact with the faucet handle,” Lathem adds.

The medical center also uses a coaching initiative called Just in Time, in which colleagues privately alert one another to wash their hands. In addition, a rotating group of 30 employees every second Tuesday of each month secretly observes their colleagues’ hand hygiene practices during patient interactions. Those employees report compliance numbers, and those numbers are then shared on UMMC’s intranet data system to track improvements.

This August, 71 percent of front line caregivers were observed complying with the center’s established hand hygiene routine, a 17 percent increase from last year. The 2016 year-end goal is no less than 80 percent.

Earlier this year, the neonatal intensive care unit went 215 days without a central line associated bloodstream infection.

“Reality is, we’re better than we were a year ago but we still have a long way to go,” says Henderson.

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Ashley F. G. Norwood, a native of Jackson, earned a bachelor's degree in English from Jackson State University and a master’s degree from the Meek School of Journalism at the University of Mississippi. Norwood, who specializes in multimedia journalism, has been recognized nationally for her documentary film the fly in the buttermilk, which covers the history, perceptions and principles of black Greek-lettered organizations at the University of Mississippi.