Last week, California hospitals lost their bid to avoid reporting their infection rates to the public. A California judge upheld a 2008 state law – one of the strongest in the nation – that calls on hospitals to report infections occurring from a broad array of surgeries.

The California Hospital Association (CHA) filed a lawsuit, along with the Association of Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) and others. They all contended that it is too burdensome for hospitals to account for their surgical infections in a standardized way and then report them to the public.

Consumer advocates with the CU Safe Patient Project disagreed and showed up in force. After a rally in front of the San Francisco courthouse, advocates sat in the courtroom to be sure patients would be represented at the hearing.

Years after its passage, the 2008 law – named “Niles Law” for a 15-year old boy who died of an infection – is just now being enforced. The judge agreed with the hospitals on a few technicalities – for example, that they should not have to submit monthly reports as required by the CDC system because the state law explicitly says the reporting should be done quarterly.

But on the major point of the categories of surgeries to be included, the judge sided with the state, saying the law is clear: “…all health-care-associated surgical site infections of deep or organ space surgical sites, health-care-associated infections of orthopedic surgical sites, cardiac surgical sites, and gastrointestinal surgical sites designated as clean and clean-contaminated…”

The hospitals have one more chance to argue which if any of the 29 procedures listed by the state for reporting do not fall into these 4 categories. Those briefs are due July 6th, after which the judge will make a ruling on a preliminary injunction.

Meanwhile, it is clear that hospitals now must finally get down to the business of tracking, reporting, and hopefully eliminating most of the dangerous infections that harm their patients year after year.