Failure of Nurses to Wash Hands Greatly Increases Spread of Infections

A recent study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection looks at the transmission of bacteria in long term care facilities. The researchers reported the results of their experiment in “Effect of an infection control programme on bacterial contamination of enteral feed in nursing homes”. The study measured the spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a prevalent healthcare associated infection, between patients with enteral feeding systems and nursing staff.

Enteral feeding is used on nursing home and hospital patients who, for whatever reason, cannot feed themselves. A tubing line is threaded down the esophagus to the stomach or inserted directly into through the stomach wall. These patients are given a liquid milk based diet. Because the method of feeding delivers food directly into the body, proper hygiene when dealing with the feed or equipment is very important as such patients are more susceptible to infection. This study found that contamination of enteral feed and equipment was quite prevalent in nursing homes. The most frequent vector of spread was the hands of nursing home staff, which had not been adequately washed and decontaminated as they moved from patient to patient.

The researchers found that establishing an infection control procedure (ICP) in the home greatly reduced contamination and infection. The ICP consisted of educating the staff about enteral feeding and how to clean equipment, but most important was teaching about proper hand-washing and hygiene techniques. The simple act of making sure that employee hands were cleaned between patient visits had a great impact on reducing infection threats.

As part of the Patients’ Bill of Rights,every nursing home resident is entitled to reside in a hygienic environment, without the threat of constant infection or injury. It is the responsibility of the home to provide this. As this study shows, just the simple act of hand washing can have a huge impact on infection spread. Nursing homes need to spend the time to educate their employees in infection control procedures and other general safety measures.

Beyond the lack of knowledge of infection control measures, many nursing homes do not employ enough staff to fully carry them out. When nursing homes are understaffed, those nurses who are caring for all of the patients are more hurried and stressed, which can lead to lapses in judgment, lax adherence to infection control measures and other healthcare guidelines, and burnout syndrome. This directly imparts a negative impact upon nursing home residents. Laxity in infection control increases infection rates in homes, which can at minimum cause the patient a great deal of discomfort and at worse result in their premature death. The MRSA contaminations observed in the study discussed are correlated with at least a 2.5 fold increase in mortality.

Prevention of falls and pressure sores are also within a nursing home’s purview. Training and time on the part of staff members is integral in avoiding such injuries. And at times lack of staffing resources can spur employees to use drastic measures to cope with overwork, such as the excessive application of restraining devices in the stead of direct care, supervision, and assistance. Such acts can not only increase the patient’s risk for further injury, but also constitute an infringement upon every nursing home patient’s rights.


It is important that nursing homes be held accountable for these abuses. If your loved one has suffered injuries because of infection or understaffing, please do not hesitate to take action. Contact us today for a free consultation to see how we can best help your loved one receive the care and respect that he or she, and every nursing home patient, deserves. Our offices have extensive experience litigating elder abuse cases, both on an individual basis and in class action suites. We have a team of attorneys that specialize in this legal area, as well as contacts with the best medical-legal experts in the field. We will dedicate all of our resources and knowledge to fighting for your loved one’s rights.