(WIBW) - A southeast Kansas hospital says patients may have been exposed to chronic and potentially life-threatening infections.
Dennis Franks, CEO of Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center in Chanute, detailed what he described as an "infection control breach" in a teleconference Tuesday afternoon with officials from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Neosho County Health Department. Franks said it affects 240 patients who are being notified by certified letter that they may receive a free blood test for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.
Franks says the breach involves patients who received a colonoscopy at Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center between January 3, 2013 and July 3, 2013. Franks says a new type of endoscope put into service in January features an auxiliary water channel which staff did not use. After an exam, the scope would be immersed in a sterilizing agent. Though the manufacturers cleaning instructions indicated the water channel should be flushed, Franks says it was not standard procedure for their staff to do so.
State Epidemiologist Charles Hunt said that even though the water channel was not used, it was still an open channel, so it would be possible for materials from patients to get in and out of the channel, thereby creating a risk for infection. Both Hunt and Franks stressed the risk was small.
However, Franks said, since the risk is not zero, the hospital is taking steps to screen patients. The letter sent to the affected patients details how they may get a blood test at the NMRMC lab or Neosho County Health Department. The tests will be analyzed by KDHE.
"I cannot begin to express how stunned we are and how bad we feel," Franks said. "We are focused on the best outcomes for our patients."
If any followup care is needed, Franks said NMRMC will cover the expenses.
Franks said the hospital became aware of the problem July 5. He declined to say how the hospital learned of it. Both he and KDHE also declined to say whether any patients already tested positive for any of the viruses. Hunt cited confidentiality issues, saying with a small population in a small community, even giving a number of people infected could compromise their identities. He said KDHE would evaluate whether they would release a number of infections - if any - later, as the investigation unfolds.
Franks said the hospital has launched an internal investigation. He said, among the issues they are examining, is whether there was an oversight in training following an equipment upgrade. The hospital began using the new endoscopes in January. They make up three of the six endoscopes the facility uses.
Hunt says it is important for patients potentially exposed to be tested because people who have Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV do not exhibit symptoms until later in life. If identified and treated early, patients may avoid many complications.