More than 240 patients who underwent colonoscopies at Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center in Chanute may have been exposed to Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B and HIV, among other diseases, due to improper scope sanitization, the hospital announced in a media telebriefing Tuesday afternoon.
Neosho Memorial CEO Dennis Franks said the potential infections would have occurred in patients who received colonoscopies between January and July 3. The hospital is using priority mail to notify the 244 patients it thinks may have been affected.
"We will cover all testing, and by some chance that anyone is discovered to have an infection from this, we will cover all charges," Franks said.
Blood samples from affected patients will be sent to KDHE for testing, with results available in about two weeks.
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The KDHE and hospital would not disclose whether any of the patients already have any of the diseases because it is a "relatively small" population and they "could be identified."
The hospital became aware of the issue on July 5, Franks said, but he would not disclose how the hospital became aware of the improper sanitization. He described it as an "oversight in training after an upgrade in equipment." There is an ongoing investigation.
"I cannot begin to have words to express how stunned we are and how bad we feel," Franks said.
Franks stressed that infection control specialists think the risk of infection is extremely low.
One type of scope used for endoscopies at the hospital since January has a small water channel used to spray ahead of the scope. The spray feature of the scope was not being used to help flush out the channel, Franks said.
This particular type of scope makes up three of the six scopes the hospital uses, Franks said.
The scope was immersed in a sterilizing agent each time. However, manufacturer instructions indicate the spray nozzle should also be flushed as part of the sterilization.
"Materials from patients could get into the channel and that's where there's potential risk," said Charles Hunt, state epidemiologist with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Hunt said that the three diseases they are primarily concerned about are blood-borne pathogens. He said there are many other potential conditions that cannot necessarily be tested at this time, including bacteria.
Because the potential infection happened in a seven-month time span, Hunt said if patients were infected, they most likely wouldn't show symptoms early on.
Hunt said they will continue to evaluate the situation and later decide whether the results can be released to the public due to patient privacy.
Franks said they are not sure whether they will be facing any malpractice suits at this time.
Neosho Memorial is a not-for-profit, county-owned hospital that serves about 45,000 people in a 60-mile radius in southeast Kansas, according to its website. Chanute is about 100 miles east of Wichita.