Hospital-acquired infections are among the leading causes of preventable death in the U.S., accounting for 1.7 million infections annually; 100,000 deaths and $30 billion in additional health care costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With an eye to reducing such infections and the costs associated with them, Maryland hospitals plan to improve hand washing. Starting in January, teams at 45 of the state's 47 hospitals will monitor their colleagues' hand-washing habits. The monitors will be given time separate from their regular duties to do the research, which will be compiled into statistics on hand washing across the hospital system and allow for comparison between the facilities. No one will be penalized for lax hand washing. Rather, the main benefits of the Maryland Hospital Hand Hygiene Collaborative are the creation of a system for officials to share best practices and uniformly report progress, and to raise awareness about the importance of keeping hands clean while dealing with patients. Using $100,000 in federal stimulus funds, the Maryland Patient Safety Center, which works with hospitals and health care providers to improve patient safety, will implement the program. While the initiative was planned long before the current H1N1 flu pandemic, officials are encouraged it will help control the spread.