HARRISBURG - Hospital officials agree on the need to reduce infections acquired in their institutions but said yesterday that they oppose efforts to require reporting them electronically via a single statewide system.

Such technology is "very costly," said Paula Bussard, the senior vice president for policy and regulatory services at the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania.

"If you're a very, very small hospital, and about a third of our hospitals are," Bussard said, help is needed for "investing in information technology."

Lawmakers this month are starting to take a closer look at legislation that would reduce hospital-acquired infections, one of several initiatives Gov. Rendell is pushing in his broad "Prescription for Pennsylvania" intended to reduce the cost and widen the availability of health care. With state budget negotiations looming, however, the prospects of both houses passing a bill before the summer break are uncertain.

The administration has said hospital-acquired infections led to nearly $3.5 billion in hospital charges last year, although Bussard said that figure does not reflect the actual cost to her members.

According to the most recent report by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, a quasi-governmental agency that monitors performance, hospitals reported that more than 19,000 patients were infected while in their care in 2005. That amounted to a little more than 1 percent of the nearly 1.6 million patients whose cases were studied.

During a Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee hearing yesterday, State Sen. Mary Jo White (R., Venango), noted the hospital association's concerns about electronic reporting.

"Aren't there advantages to having hospitals all using the same technology?" White asked P.J. Brennan, chief medical officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

"The information we receive from the system should be integrated across hospitals," Brennan said, "but I don't think you have to use the same tool to get to that point."

About one-quarter of the state's hospitals are using electronic systems to monitor infections, according to a 2006 hospital association survey.

Susan Anderson, deputy director of the Governor's Office of Health Care Reform, said the administration is not necessarily prescribing a specific reporting system, but it wants all hospitals to share their infection data with the state.

"It's the only way that hospitals can truly identify hospital-acquired infections or community-acquired infections that people bring [in] with them when they're admitted," Anderson said.