SALEM – A Salem man who was one of about 450 patients exposed to HIV and hepatitis infections at Salem Hospital said he was told a reused piece of equipment was the reason for the scare.
Geoff Miller said he was informed by hospital officials that equipment used to anesthetize endoscopy patients was used on multiple patients rather than being changed for each patient to prevent infection.
Miller said he was notified by the hospital last month on Oct. 25 that he was one of the patients who may have been exposed. Miller, 47, had a colonoscopy at Salem Hospital more than a year ago, in September of 2022.
Miller said she took a free blood test offered by the hospital earlier this month and the results were negative.
“It was a little disturbing,” he said.
Salem Hospital officials said this week that approximately 450 patients were potentially exposed to hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV “due to the administration of their intravenous medication in a manner not consistent with our best practices.”
The hospital said it was made aware of the practice earlier this year and immediately corrected it. Officials said there is no evidence of any infection to date, and said the risk of infection for patients is “extremely small”.
A hospital spokesperson said about 90% of potentially affected patients have either completed, scheduled or declined testing.
Salem Hospital has not provided further details about the exact nature of the mistake, which it called an “isolate practice,” or why it went on for nearly two years before it was discovered. According to a message sent to patients by Dr. Michelle Rein, chief medical officer of Salem Hospital, the potential exposures occurred from June 14, 2021, to April 19, 2023.
Asked why it took so long to discover the problem, a hospital spokesperson said it involved a “single contracted individual” and that the practice was “not easily observed.” He said the man no longer works at Salem Hospital.
Miller, the Salem patient, said he was informed about the reused devices when he called the phone number that Salem Hospital provided when it notified patients about the potential exposure. He said he was told it was not an IV needle or tubing but another piece of equipment used in anesthesia that was considered “single use” equipment, meaning it had to be changed for each patient. .
“I thought it would be very likely for them to admit that this was really something that was being done in a way that it shouldn’t have been done,” Miller said. “I don’t think they downplayed it. “They basically admitted that they were not following proper procedure.”
A spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said the agency was aware of the situation and conducted an on-site investigation at Salem Hospital and worked with Mass General Brigham’s infection control team “to manage the situation.” Salem Hospital is part of Mass General Brigham.
MassDPH said its investigation did not identify evidence of any infections as a result of exposure and said the risk of infection is “very low.” The agency said it advised Salem Hospital to inform all affected patients in writing about the potential exposure to bloodborne pathogens and offer free follow-up care, including testing.
MassDPH did not return a message seeking more details about what Salem Hospital did wrong.
According to the MassDPH website, hepatitis B can develop into a serious disease that can lead to cirrhosis and/or liver cancer. Hepatitis C damages the liver and can cause cancer and death. HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, weakens the immune system by destroying cells that fight disease and infection.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.
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