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Report finds hospital infections soared during the pandemic. Here's how the Tampa Bay region fared

Hospital patient lies in a bed with an IV hooked up to their hand. Child holds the patient's hand.
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Challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic likely contributed to a spike in hospital-acquired infections, according to the Leapfrog Group.

Average rates for MRSA along with bloodline and urinary tract infections rose to five-year highs, according to the report. Many Florida hospitals received A-ratings, while others saw their grades go down.

Some hospitals in the Tampa Bay region and around the U.S. struggled with a spike in health care-associated infections during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a safety analysis released this month.

Experts with The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit that issues hospital safety ratings twice a year, cautioned about the rise in infections in their latest rankings. Many Florida hospitals still received A ratings, while others saw a dip in their grades.

Health care-associated infections are illnesses patients develop while in the hospital or as a result of their stay.

“They can have serious complications, they can lengthen hospitalization stays, add to cost and can actually even lead to death in some cases,” said Katie Stewart, Leapfrog’s director of health care ratings.

The analysis compared infections rates from this data cycle, which covered late 2021 and 2022, to pre-pandemic levels. It found the average risk of MRSA, central line-associated bloodstream infections and catheter-associated urinary tract infections rose to five-year highs.

Incidences of bloodline infections rose by 60% nationally, MRSA increased by 37% and UTI’s by 19%.

At the time, many hospitals were struggling with patient surges as the delta and omicron variants sent COVID-19 admissions soaring.

“I think we saw there were lapses in protocols that had been set in place to reduce the number of health care-associated infections,” Stewart said. “We certainly know there were stresses on the workforce, not just in terms of staffing shortages, but also burden and morale and supply chain issues.”

More recent data suggests hospitals are moving in the right direction, but Stewart says there is more work to be done.

The Leapfrog Group weighs over 30 measures to generate its safety grades, including patient experience, staffing levels and practices in place to prevent adverse events, among others.

How Tampa Bay fared

But some hospitals say the rankings don't paint the full picture. Tampa General Hospital, which dropped from a B to a C, said it performs more complex surgeries than some other facilities. Those surgeries are more likely to result in infections.

“Leapfrog’s criteria weigh rates of infection heavily that are common among these complex cases, but that Tampa General providers are highly skilled and experienced at managing,” hospital officials said in a statement. “While we're disappointed to see a drop in our rating by 0.09%, the rating does not reflect our unwavering commitment to be the safest and most innovative academic health system in America.”

Officials noted the hospital is also “the only academic medical center in the country that has received two key safety qualifications from the international accreditation organization DNV,” while adding that staff is implementing an “aggressive plan” to improve its Leapfrog rating.

Many HCA Florida hospitals in the region received A- or B- ratings, although the Oak Hill facility in Brooksville dropped from a B to a C.

“HCA Florida Oak Hill Hospital continues to grow and expand services to meet the community need and has earned numerous recent quality accolades including being named among the Top 5% of Hospitals in the Nation for Surgical Care in 2023 by Healthgrades,” said Debra McKell, media relations director for the West Florida division, in an email.

HCA Florida Highlands hospital in Sebring, which is not in the same division, downgraded from C to D.

Several AdventHealth hospitals in the region fared well with A ratings, but facilities in Dade City, Sebring and Zephyrhills dropped to a B, while its locations in Lake Wales and Davenport downgraded to C and D, respectively. The hospital cited pandemic challenges including staff and resource shortages as contributing factors and said it has already started working on improving patient safety.

“We have taken several steps to provide the highest level of care possible during the pandemic and beyond,” said Robin McGuinness, senior executive officer and chief nurse executive of AdventHealth West Florida Division. “This includes implementing enhanced infection control measures, providing ongoing training to our staff and leveraging the latest technology for patient care.”

Manatee Memorial Hospital dropped from a C to D. The hospital has not responded to requests for comment.

Here’s how hospitals around the Tampa Bay region ranked:

A rating

AdventHealth Carrollwood

AdventHealth North Pinellas

AdventHealth Tampa

AdventHealth Wesley Chapel

Bartow Regional Medical Center

HCA Florida Brandon Hospital

HCA Florida Englewood Hospital

HCA Florida Largo Hospital

HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital

HCA Florida Sarasota Doctors Hospital

HCA Florida St. Petersburg Hospital

HCA Florida Trinity Hospital

Mease Countryside Hospital

Mease Dunedin Hospital

Morton Plant Hospital

Morton Plant North Bay Hospital

Sarasota Memorial Hospital

South Florida Baptist Hospital

St. Anthony's Hospital

St. Joseph's Hospital

St. Joseph's Hospital - South

St. Joseph's Hospital North

B rating

AdventHealth Dade City

AdventHealth Sebring

AdventHealth Zephyrhills

HCA Florida Blake Hospital

HCA Florida Northside Hospital

HCA Florida South Shore Hospital

HCA Florida South Tampa Hospital

Lakewood Ranch Medical Center

Winter Haven Hospital

C rating

AdventHealth Lake Wales

Bayfront Health St. Petersburg

Bravera Health Brooksville

Bravera Health Seven Rivers

Bravera Health Spring Hill

HCA Florida Citrus Hospital

HCA Florida Oak Hill Hospital

Lakeland Regional Medical Center

ShorePoint Health Punta Gorda

Tampa General Hospital

D rating

Adventhealth Heart of Florida

HCA Florida Highlands Hospital

Manatee Memorial Hospital

Not graded

Desoto Memorial Hospital

HCA Florida Bayonet Point Hospital

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.