Thousands of Superbug Deaths Aren’t Being Recorded
It isn’t unusual to hear that thousands of Californians die each year in the state’s top hospitals. But what is surprising is that many of these deaths are due to deadly infections caught at the hospital itself. And they’re going largely unnoticed. California hospitals are not required to record such illnesses as the cause of death, despite legions of patients dying their care from superbug infections.
Sharley McMullen’s family saw this tragedy first hand in May 2014. McMullen went to the Torrence Memorial Medical Center operating room for stomach ulcer treatment. She came out with CKRP — one of the country’s deadliest superbugs.
A doctor scribbled the abbreviation on her medical chart and sent her to a recovery ward. But after five long weeks of antibiotics and medical treatments for the infection, McMullen passed away. She died whilst in intensive care and prescribed morphine due to the severity of her pain.
Yet, despite being diagnosed and treated for CKRP, her death certificate did not mention the hospital-acquired superbug. Dr. Yasmeen Shaw, McMullen’s primary doctor during her ICU stay, instead listed respiratory failure and septic shock from the stomach ulcer as the cause of death. Dr. Shaw stated she was following hospital directives in recording the death’s underlying cause. In this case, the perforated ulcer.
Everything that happened to her health is a consequence of the initial condition she came in with,” Shaw told the Los Angeles Times. “Had the patient not have had a perforated ulcer they wouldn’t have been in the hospital in the first place.”
Doctors Want Greater Accountability
Other doctors and scientists are seeking to bring light to this rampant underreporting as hospital-acquired infections sweep the nation. California officials estimate that as many as 9,000 Californias die every year from infections caught at the hospital.
A 2014 study by University of Michigan researchers determined that the death rates by CKCP and similar infections — acquired both inside and outside hospitals — would replace cancer and heart disease as the leading cause of deaths in healthcare facilities if counted via medical billing records. Such records show what patients were undergoing treatment for, such as in McMullen’s case, and not their initial diagnosis.
Dr. Martin Makary, a surgeon at Baltimore’s esteemed John Hopkins Hospital, called on the CDC this past May to institute a second line on all death certificates where doctors can add whether if the death was the result of a preventable complication incurred during medical care.
In his plea, Makary estimates that superbug infections, medical errors, and other scenarios of “medical care going wrong” would be the third-leading cause of deaths among all Americans if it were appropriately recorded.