D.C. health officials to investigate sewage leaking into ORs at Medstar Washington Hospital Center

The D.C. Department of Health is investigating a complaint of sewage leaks in operating rooms at MedStar Washington (D.C.) Hospital Center, reports USA Today.

One such OR was used to perform surgery on Rep. Steve Scalise, R- La., after he was shot in June at a congressional baseball practice. Mr. Scalise contracted an infection while being treated at Washington Hospital Center, which prompted greater awareness of the hospital's low safety ratings.

David Mayer, MedStar's vice president of safety and quality, said it is improper to associate someone shot with a "dirty bullet from a dirty gun on a dirty ball field" with a hospital's overall infection issues, according to an internal memo sent to staff and cited by USA Today.

The sewage leaks posed numerous infection control issues, according to former and current Washington Hospital Center employees USA Today interviewed.

The hospital closed the OR two days after Mr. Scalise's surgery for sterilization due to the sewage leaks. One physician told USA Today he saw liquid stool mixed in with sewage on the floor in the same OR, which he said suggested the leak had been occurring for some time. The physician also said clinicians performed a surgical procedure in a neighboring OR five feet away from the leak.

Other employees described clinicians walking between the sewage-soaked ORs, surgical instrument storage areas and the hallways in the same protective foot coverings. The hospital also allegedly used buckets to catch water leaks from ceilings — the same ones sewage leaked through — at least two times during surgeries. Employees claimed portable fans were used to get rid of a strong "porta potty" odor in the leaking ORs, which may be troublesome as fans can spread bacteria in the air, the report notes.

"[O]ur team addressed recent leaks at the hospital immediately, following our robust protocols. The areas were cleaned, sterilized and inspected by an outside industrial hygienist to ensure that they were safe for patient car," MedStar Washington Hospital said in a statement to Becker's. "The portrayal of our hospital in the recent USA Today article was riddled with inaccuracies and unfounded conclusions. Our patients were never put at risk due to recent leaks in our operating room area. We are committed to the highest quality, safest care for every patient who comes through our doors and have an intensive program in place to quickly identify and correct problems."

D.C. health department spokeswoman Jasmine Gossett told USA Today the department will decide whether Washington Hospital Center is subject to a penalty upon completing a full investigation of the sewage leaks.

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