Healthcare News & Insights

Avoid one hospital’s hepatitis C nightmare

The suspected negligent actions of one employee have landed an entire hospital under fire.

Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire is in the midst of damage control after news of an outbreak of hepatitis C among patients who visited its cardiac catheterization lab.

So far, 27 patients have tested positive for the illness. All received care in the cardiac catheterization lab and its recovery room between Oct. 1, 2010 and May 25, 2012.

According to the New Hampshire public health director, Dr. Jose Montero, the infections may have been caused by a practice known as “drug diversion,” meaning an employee with the disease injected the contents of a syringe, refilled it with saline or another solution, and put it back to be used on patients.

This scandal may end up costing the hospital big bucks. Close to 60 patients have already moved to sue the hospital for failing to ensure its treatments were safe. This includes 47 people who have signed on for a class-action lawsuit and 12 who filed individual lawsuits.

And the scope of infections hasn’t been fully discovered yet.  So far, the hospital has reached out to over 600 former patients, informing them of the issue and asking them to get tested for the disease.

Most states require physicians to report all individual hepatitis cases, but New Hampshire doesn’t. The cases went undetected for almost two years until a large group of patients from the lab all became sickened with the disease.

To prevent something like this in your hospital, it’s important to train all staff on the importance of safe handling procedures for hospital equipment and supplies. Remind them of the serious consequences that exist for both patients and staff when someone violates those procedures.

If a patient does test positive for hepatitis C while receiving care at your facility, evaluate the patient to make sure the infection didn’t happen as a result of any treatments given by hospital staff.

Doctors may find that the root of the illness isn’t the hospital’s fault, but double checking is worth the time. It’s better to be safe than sorry – Exeter Hospital is learning that lesson the hard way.

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