State prioritizes work to stem sepsis

SEPT. 13, 2018 -- Marking the state's first Sepsis Awareness Day, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders spoke to a State House gathering of health care leaders as well as patients and families touched by sepsis.

Calling it "an important day for patient safety," she also shared a deeply personal story about the death of her older sister, Susan, from sepsis three summers ago. Her story, and those of two other women whose lives were dramatically changed by sepsis, underscored the need to create significantly greater awareness of the condition among both the health care professionals community and the general public.

open quote

My sister was in health care. I’m in health care. And we did not see the signs. We knew that she had a serious illness. But she died from septic shock.

Secretary Marylou Sudders
close quote

The secretary also formally announced the creation of a consortium of more than 25 public and private health care, advocacy and other organizations to work together with a goal of significantly reducing morbidity and mortality.

“The goal of the Massachusetts Sepsis Consortium is to save lives by increasing awareness of the signs and symptoms of sepsis,” said Secretary Sudders. “This includes the need for people to seek immediate care and for providers to promptly diagnose and treat sepsis before it’s too late. Given the complex nature of sepsis and the fact that this disease knows no social or economic boundaries, no single entity can address this alone. The Consortium’s multi-sector collaborative approach will serve as a model for addressing health challenges that require a shared commitment from public and private actors.”

Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming response to serious infection, which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death. It is the leading cause of death in hospitals and the costliest condition to treat in the United States. Anyone can get sepsis, but the elderly, very young children and adults with chronic conditions are at higher risk. More than 40,000 people in Massachusetts are diagnosed with sepsis every year.

"I have every confidence," the Secretary continued, the Consortium's work "will yield positive results."

Joining the Secretary at the launch event and sharing their personal stories were Tina Edwards, who lost her mother to sepsis, and Doreen Bettencourt, who survived sepsis but told the group pointedly that it "changed the trajectory of my life."

Despite its impacts, people don’t know very much about sepsis and most aren’t familiar with the symptoms. Sepsis is treatable if caught early, but it is difficult to detect because symptoms can be mistaken for less serious illnesses, and even a few hours delay in treatment can mean the difference between life and death. For every hour that sepsis treatment is delayed, the risk of death increases by as much as eight percent.

Read more

With coordination by the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety, a state agency that supports providers, patients and policymakers working to advance the safety and quality of health care, the Consortium will focus on improving sepsis outcomes by promoting better implementation of evidence-based sepsis protocols and by fielding a statewide sepsis awareness campaign.

Barbara Fain, Executive Director of the Betsy Lehman Center, thanked the Secretary for her leadership and commitment to patient safety.

“Collaboration is essential to improving patient safety and a hallmark of our mission is bringing people together to recommend actionable strategies that address difficult problems,” Ms. Fain said. “This is exactly the kind of approach needed to improve early detection of sepsis and reduce preventable deaths in the Commonwealth.”

She also thanked the many Consortium partners for the work done to date and the commitment to a longer-term strategic response to sepsis, including Representative Kate Hogan and Senators Mark C. Montigny and Jason M. Lewis.

Also attending the event and representing the Massachusetts Health and Hospitals Association (MHA) in the Consortium was Pat Noga, RN, PhD, FAAN.

“Massachusetts hospitals are on the front lines of dealing with sepsis, and are committed to improving early diagnosis and treatment of this life-threatening condition, particularly when patients come in to an Emergency Department,” she said. “MHA looks forward to working with its member hospitals, fellow Sepsis Consortium partners and patients and families to increase public awareness and address this vital public health concern.”