Contaminated Hospital Mattresses: An Underreported Killer


Edmond Hooker, MD, DrPH, discusses how many people have fallen ill or even died due to contaminated hospital mattresses.

Edmond Hooker, MD, DrPH, professor, Health Services Administration at Xavier University, and emergency physician at the University of Cincinnati, discusses how many people have fallen ill or even died due to contaminated hospital mattresses.

Interview Transcript (modified slightly for readability):

“There are many, many reports. I’ve got personally either 20 or 30 reports of people getting sick from mattresses. The problem is hospitals don’t report it. The US Food and Drug Administration recently got a report of 450 patients who had blood ooze out of stretchers onto them—blood and secretions and poop. That’s just what got reported; you know that’s the tip of the iceberg. I’ll go into hospitals and they’ll say, ‘A third of our mattresses have failed.’ They’ve got cracks, they have tears, and then about 5-10% may have blood in them.

I just went into an OB/GYN suite and they couldn’t quite figure out why they had a smell; it’s because there was blood—there are two layers to the stretcher cover and there was literally physical blood that smelled to high-heaven in that mattress. And they checked all of them, and basically, all of them had blood in them—100%. So, I’m putting a beautiful mom delivering a baby on that mattress, and what goes in comes back out; it’s a huge problem.

It’s an underreported problem, but there is no question there has been report after report after report of, ‘We had this outbreak. We killed all these people.’ There was just a report that came out on 18 people who were sick in a French hospital; they were on beds manufactured here in America, and 4 people were killed before they finally realized that it was the mattresses. They took all of the mattresses out of service and stopped the outbreak. There’s a reason that it’s an underreported problem; hospitals don’t want to say, ‘Hey, we just killed a bunch of people. We kill 29,000 people a year with Clostridium difficile infections. Do you hear that? I mean, that’s like crashing a plane every day and we do nothing about it. We just act like it didn’t happen.

The mattress is the highest touch point in the room; you lay on that thing 23 hours a day or more, and yet we clean the toilet better than we clean what you lay on. And the sheet won’t protect you; the bacteria can go right through a sheet; blood can come right through a sheet; C. diff can come right through a sheet.”

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