"Superbug" Research

Litwin team maps labor relations impact on spread of infection
Friday, February 19, 2016

Every day, one in 25 hospital patients in the United States contracts a potentially deadly “superbug” as a result of hospital treatment.

Known as “health care-associated infections,” superbugs can spread when hospital practices such as surface disinfection are not strictly followed, experts say. Workers who clean hospitals are considered crucial in containing disease.

In “Superbugs vs. Outsourced Cleaners: Employment Arrangements and the Spread of Healthcare-Associated Infections,” Associate Professor Adam Seth Litwin and co-authors examined the relationship between labor relations and germ transmission.

Litwin, Associate Dean/Associate Professor Ariel Avgar Ph.D. ’08 of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Professor Edmund Becker of Emory University mapped infection data to the structural, organizational and work force features of California’s acute care hospitals.

Despite the importance of cleaning, hospitals frequently outsource the function, the researchers said, “increasing the likelihood that these workers are under-rewarded, undertrained, and detached from the organization and the rest of the care team.”

As a result, “outsourcing could have the unintended consequence of increasing the incidence” of infections in hospitals, they found.

Litwin and colleagues wrote in the study that they hope the research sounds a “cautionary note to hospital administrators and healthcare policymakers.”