More than a thousand patients may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis C and B and other infections at Goshen Hospital in northern Indiana.
The hospital’s leadership wrote in letters to 1,182 patients that ‘one step’ in sterilization process for surgical tools had been skipped and, as a result, there was a minimal but potential risk they could have been exposed to infections.
According to the letter, obtained by Fox 42, the step was skipped ‘with certain surgical instruments in a limited number of cases’ – but the oversight was ongoing from April to September 2019.
The hospital is now offering free tests to anyone who underwent surgery at the hospital during that time and may have been exposed to the host of infections the surgical tools may have come into contact with.
Nearly 1,200 patients who visited Goshen Hospital in Indiana are at what the facility calls a minimal risk of exposure to HIV, hepatitis B and C and other infections after a step in the mult-step sterilization process for surgical tools was skipped (file)
Hospitals are places of healing, but they’re also necessarily places of sickness.
Infections that are common and often contracted in hospitals affect an estimated 1.7 million Americans a year, killing some 99,000.
Risks are higher for patients who have catheters inserted, undergo surgery, get injections, have been over-treated with antibiotics, are exposed to other patients or healthcare workers with diseases or, of course, are treated in settings that haven’t been properly sterilized.
The most common infections are blood infections from central lines, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, C difficile, staph and infections that occur at the surgical sites.
But patients get treated for all manner of disease and infections at hospitals around the world, meaning that just about any bug can be transmitted if hygiene and sterilization processes are not insufficient.
The proper sterilization process may vary between different tools and implements, but suffice it to say that the Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) dedicates more than 20 pages to its document on ‘standard of practice for the decontamination of surgical instruments.
These are procedures with many steps and redundancies by design.
If every step is completed correctly, the risk of contamination and transmission is slim to none. But if any one step is skipped or done improperly, risks start to creep up.
That, according to the letter sent to patients, is exactly what happened at Goshen Hospital.
‘One step in a multistep cleaning process was not completed with certain surgical instruments in a limited number of cases,’ wrote hospital president and chief executive officer, Randal Christophel.
‘The surgical instruments in question were still treated with other usual chemical disinfection and machine sterilization processes which include a wide margin of safety; however, we are not able to determine if such instruments were completely sterile prior to use.’
It isn’t clear if one technician or multiple were responsible for the skipped step, nor did the hospital announce any actions besides making free testing available.
But chief medical officer Daniel Nafziger told the Goshen News that the hospital has addressed the issue.
‘As with any patient safety concern, we rigorously investigated all aspects around the incident,’ hee said.
‘We have put strict policies and additional safety measures in place to ensure it does not happen again.
‘We also want to express our concern for each of these patients.’
One of those patients, Lori Deboard is concerned for herself and her family, too.
‘I was mad … because when you tell somebody that they could be at risk for something like that (it) not only involves you, it involves your family, your significant other,’ she told WSBT-TV.
‘I have grand kids and kids.’
The hospital is offering free blood tests for patients like Deboard, for an unspecified duration.
For patients who believe they may have been exposed, the hospital has set up a hotline for questions or who want to schedule a test at (574) 364-2100.