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The End of the Public Health Emergency Refocuses the Urgency to Improve Healthcare Quality

R. Burciaga Valdez, Ph.D., M.H.S.A.
Robert Otto Valdez, Ph.D., M.H.S.A.

On May 11, 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration announced an end to the COVID-19 public health emergency that has been in place for three years. While the Nation is still vigilant about COVID-19 to avoid resurges of the virus, we must now turn our attention to the ongoing healthcare issues facing our Nation.

Several signals indicate that progress has stalled or reversed due to the stresses that the COVID-19 pandemic put on our local healthcare delivery systems and their workforces. The Leapfrog Group’s spring 2023 Hospital Safety Grade, one of many indicators that measure healthcare quality, provides data that speak to recent trends.

First, some encouraging news: According to the Leapfrog report, Clostridioides difficile infection rates improved 15 percent when comparing the period immediately before the pandemic to rates in late 2021 and 2022. There was no change in surgical site infections following surgery. 

But during the same period, as healthcare delivery systems in our communities strained under the pressures of COVID-19—treating sick patients, administering life-saving vaccines, and responding to the pandemic’s unpredictable waves—other problems worsened. Rates increased for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections (37 percent), central-line associated bloodstream infections (60 percent), and catheter-associated urinary tract infections (19 percent).

This Leapfrog report is just the most recent signal that we must rededicate ourselves at all healthcare delivery and management levels to improve the safety of our patients and workforce. As I have pointed out in public presentations, an AHRQ data analysis1 published in JAMA showed that the Nation made slow but steady progress on a few hospital-acquired infections before the pandemic, but has not demonstrated progress on most conditions we examined. 

Similarly, a team of researchers in Massachusetts recently published a study2 in the New England Journal of Medicine that estimated 1 in

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