Sepsis rates rise in Fraser Valley hospitals

Patients go to a hospital to get better, but many end up acquiring new illnesses while getting treatment.

No hospital stay anywhere is entirely risk-free: the reality that one can acquire a variety of illnesses is one reason BC’s health system increasingly tries to treat sick people while they remain at home.

But data suggests that parallel work to reduce the spread and acquisition of illnesses in Fraser Valley hospitals is a constant battle, and one that local institutions aren’t always winning.

Sepsis on the rise

One of the deadliest types of hospital-acquired illnesses is sepsis, a life-threatening condition that occurs following an infection. Such infections are often (though not always) acquired within a hospital, so facilities monitor the frequency with which it arises. Good hygiene and regular hand-washing are some of the key ways to reduce the frequency of sepsis.

Sepsis rates have been increasing across the Fraser Health region since 2019, according to data released in quarterly report cards published by Fraser Health. The health authority sets targets—aiming to keep sepsis occurrences below a certain level. Last year, it failed to meet its target for the first time in five years. The sepsis rate increased further last year.

The sepsis rate differs considerably by hospital. Last year was the third consecutive year in which, Chilliwack General (CGH) had a lower recorded sepsis rate than its neighbouring large community hospitals. Last year, CGH registered fewer than one sepsis case per 1,000 patients discharged.

The sepsis discharge rate at Abbotsford and Langley’s hospital was more than four times higher. Both facilities failed to meet the target of 2.9 cases per 1,000 patients.

Part of that is on account of how the figures are counted: When someone acquires sepsis in a small hospital and they are transferred to a larger facility, that case is counted towards the larger hospital’s total, according to a Fraser Health spokesperson. So Abbotsford Regional’s status as a health care hub may bring it more patients who have sepsis. Similarly, Fraser Canyon Hospital and Mission Memorial Hospital have low sepsis rates, though that is to be expected given the limited acute care services offered at the two facilities.

Whatever the case, though, sepsis rates have broadly increased over recent years.

In an email to The Current, a Fraser Health spokesperson said the pandemic was to blame, because COVID-infected patients were more vulnerable to infections and sepsis..

The sepsis rate is one of a series of safety measures related to acquired hospital illnesses that Fraser Health tracks and releases quarterly in its facility report cards. Those report cards reveal that local facilities are meeting less than half of acquired-illness safety targets.

Fraser Health says patient behaviour also plays a role. The say people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the flu, pneumonia, and any other infections that could lead to sepsis, and that those in hospital should make sure to wash hands, brush their teeth, and do their best to keep clean.

Increasing UTIs

Urinary tract infections acquired while in hospital are particularly and problematically common in Fraser Health. (UTIs can also lead to sepsis.)Every Fraser Valley hospital exceeded the target for the number of UTIs over the last year. Mission Memorial Hospital fared particularly poorly. Across the entirety of the Fraser Health region, which includes hospitals in Surrey, Delta, and Burnaby, only one facility—Royal Columbian Hospital—met its target.

That’s part of a worrying trend that has seen the frequency of acquired UTIs increase each of the last five years.

Fraser Health says it is working to reduce the rate and has created a new cross-facility group to try and reduce the number of UTIs by 15% over the next year. That’s an ambitious goal, but one that won’t bring it to its target. To get UTIs under control in the region, hospitals must reduce the number of infections by 60% to meet its target.

Other hospital-acquired illnesses on the rise include pneumonia and delirium.

The former can be fatal and caused by a variety of germs. Pneumonia starting in hospitals can be particularly dangerous because it hits already vulnerable people. Fraser Health’s regional pneumonia rate has increased significantly since 2018. Chilliwack General is one of the better performers in the region, with a rate 10% below its target.

Acquired delirium, meanwhile, resuls when a patient experiences a deterioration in their mental functioning. About 15% of older adults who enter hospital, acquire delirium. However, it can be prevented and treated. Family members can be particularly useful by monitoring and engaging with their loved ones. Rates of acquired delirium in the Fraser Health region are well above average, and have been rising since at least 2015.

Declining MRSA rates

It’s not been all bad news for Fraser Health.

Over the last five years, the health authority has cut occurrences of one dangerous bacteria nearly in half. Incidences of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), have plunged. MRSA is a cause of staph infections, and is resistant to many antibiotics.

Between April and May only Mission Memorial Hospital missed its target.

The data

The data above comes from quarterly report cards released by Fraser Health. The Current is compiling and publishing some of the most important data from the cards regularly. The report cards contain even more data than available below. To see everything released in the report cards, click here.

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