Wyoming hospital urged to contact patients after unsterile surgical instrument reports

The Wyoming Department of Health has urged SageWest Health Care-Lander in Wyoming to warn surgical patients they may have been exposed to bloodborne pathogens due to improperly sterilized surgical tools, according to a Casper Star Tribune report.

The hospital has a history of sterilization issues dating back to 2014, when a surgeon reported surgical instruments were sometimes not properly washed and sterilized. A state investigation found surgical tools had biofilms and rust.

Another investigation in 2015 found the hospital had not addressed the issue.

Further, a report from spring 2016 found the hospital's operating rooms did not meet the federal government's standards for sanitation, according to the report.

Most recently, a report issued in October 2016 states, "The hospital failed to complete the cleaning, inspection, and sterilization process necessary to ensure surgical instruments were free from potential infectious materials," according to the Casper Star Tribune.

SageWest then postponed elective surgeries until changes were made. The hospital purchased new equipment for its ORs and implemented new cleaning procedures that go beyond federal government requirements.

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However, the Casper Star Tribune recently gained access to a Dec. 21 letter sent from the state health department to the Wyoming Board of Medicine which recommended SageWest Health Care notify patients who underwent surgery at its facilities between December 2013 and October 2016 that they may have been exposed to bloodborne pathogens.

The Board of Medicine wanted to ensure physicians were not blamed for any resulting infections, its director told the newspaper.

"Importantly, there is no evidence of any patient harm or infectious disease transmission to any surgical patient at SageWest-Lander," a hospital spokesperson told the newspaper. The spokesperson "repeatedly declined to say whether SageWest had contacted patients potentially exposed to unclean surgical tools [or] whether it would do so," according to the Casper Star Tribune report.

SageWest sent a statement Tuesday to Becker's, which states in part, "We do not agree with everything that was reported in the recent Casper Star-Tribune article. SageWest is currently evaluating next steps and how to best address patient concerns without causing undue alarm, given that there is no evidence of infectious disease transmission."

The system clarified that the Wyoming Department of Health accepted SageWest's correction plan in November and that CMS notified the system it is in compliance with all conditions of participations for hospital sterilization practices.

"Today, SageWest has extensive surgical instrument cleaning and sterilization processes in place, including use of new, top-of-the-line equipment and cleaning procedures," the statement reads.

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