How a Vermont hospital is working to battle superbugs

Published: Dec. 11, 2019 at 6:19 PM EST
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Antibiotic-resistant bugs or superbugs are an ongoing public health threat across the globe. Health care facilities across Vermont say they're addressing the issue. Our Adam Sullivan shows you what's being done at the Gifford Medical Center in Randolph.

"Most of our patients here are going to get an antibiotic," said Jane McConnell, the pharmacy manager.

Antibiotics are mixed often at the Gifford Medical Center but not nearly as much as in the past.

"As soon as we determine something is not an infection, getting people off antibiotics, making sure we get the right antibiotics chosen each time and dosed correctly," McConnell said.

According to doctors, the overuse of antibiotics is creating a bigger problem: superbugs, infections that can't be stopped.

Every year across the United States, 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections are diagnosed which, according to the CDC, have contributed to 35,000 deaths.

"If you look at a lot of national trends, there are bugs out there now in different places where no antibiotics work. The goal is to not have that happen," said Dr. Joshua White, the chief medical officer at Gifford.

As part of a statewide initiative supported by a grant from UVM, Gifford formed the Antibiotic Stewardship Committee. It's a multidisciplinary group focused on inpatient protocols around common illnesses like pneumonia or skin infections.

"What antibiotics are we using and when are we using them? And when might that be a problem," White said.

Back at the pharmacy, a new procedure is in place-- a 72-hour timeout requiring doctors to revisit whether a patient still needs antibiotics after being on them for three days. Because of this and other changes, the hospital has seen a greater than 50 percent reduction in the antibiotic drugs given to patients.

"I think everybody knew that we had antibiotic overuse in this country altogether and this is putting some data behind it," McConnell said.

But as patients get admitted on a daily basis, antibiotics will still be part of the mix.

Reporter Adam Sullivan: So there are circumstances where patients will continue to get antibiotics and they are very effective?

Dr. Joshua White: Absolutely. There are clear areas where it is very necessary.

The committee meets regularly to discuss the data and review outcomes and it will continue to do so as long as antibiotic-resistant bugs continue to be an issue in health care.