Ventilator-Associated Events

Ventilator-associated events (VAEs) are complications or infections, including ventilator-associated pneumonia, caused by the use of a mechanical ventilator.

These events can lead to serious complications, even death, especially for critically ill patients.

What is a ventilator?

A ventilator is a life-saving machine that helps people breathe when they cannot breathe well on their own. Often, patients are connected to a ventilator in surgery or when recovering from serious illness. A ventilator is connected to a tube — called an endotracheal or "ET" tube — placed in the patient's lungs. The tube is inserted through the mouth, nose or throat.

At UCSF Medical Center, patients connected to a ventilator are always in an intensive care unit or in surgery. A ventilator may be used for several weeks.

How does UCSF Medical Center monitor ventilator-associated events and pneumonia?

UCSF measures VAE rates according to the methods of the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

UCSF reports "probable or possible VAE" rates expressed as the number of events per 1,000 ventilator days, or the total number of days patients use a ventilator. For example, if a patient is on a mechanical ventilator for five days, that would count as five ventilator days.

What is the rate of VAEs at UCSF Medical Center?

Lower is better when comparing VAE rates. Individual units compare against NHSN data. In fiscal year 2016, our rate was 0.66 VAE/1,000 ventilator days.

Our goal is to have zero ventilator-associated events in our hospital.

Ventilator-associated pneumonia chart

What does UCSF Medical Center do to prevent VAEs?

To prevent VAEs, we:

  • Keep the head of the bed elevated to 30 degrees or higher to prevent stomach acids from entering the lungs.
  • Clean the patient's mouth at least six times each day to reduce the risk of mouth germs getting into the lungs.
  • Clean our hands before touching patients and ventilators.
  • Remove the ventilator and tube as soon as patients can safely breathe on their own.
  • Clean the ventilator at least twice each day.
  • Give medications to keep the patient comfortable and at the least risk for VAEs.
  • Audit the procedures to confirm our employees follow procedures properly.
  • Have a committee of Infection Control staff, nurses and doctors that meets frequently to review our VAE rates and examine the care we give. If a VAE occurs, this committee evaluates what, if anything, went wrong.

What can you do?

Talk to your health care team members. Find out when the ventilator can be safely removed. If you don't see a doctor, nurse or technician clean his or her hands, ask him or her to do so before touching the ventilator.


Related Information

Contact Us

If you have any questions or comments about our performance, contact Patient Safety and Quality:

  • UCSF Medical Center
    (415) 353-4989
  • UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco
    (415) 502-9859

Other Resources

For help finding a doctor or other assistance, contact our Referral Service at (888) 689-UCSF or (888) 689-8273.

Have a question? Send us an email.