Sheridan County Memorial Hospital failed to adequately sterilize equipment used for surgical patients for several months last year, a consumer advocates organization said Tuesday.
As a result, several hundred patients may have been exposed to a variety of infectious viral and bacterial agents, Public Citizen said in a media release.
On Tuesday, the hospital acknowledged that it has recently changed its sterilization procedures, but stopped short of saying how many patients could have been affected.
The Washington D.C.- based organization Public Citizen said that during a November 2011 inspection, the Wyoming Department of Health discovered that the hospital was no longer properly sterilizing reusable laryngeal mask airways between uses for patients undergoing surgery. The device is inserted into a patient’s throat to provide anesthesia and mechanical ventilation during surgery.
After the inspection, the department required the hospital to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on washing the equipment, followed by sterilization in an autoclave, as well as keeping track of how many times the airways were used.
According to Public Citizen, the hospital staff had been manually washing the airways with a brush, followed by low-level disinfection using an automated spray washer.
Approximately 100 patients a month undergo surgery using the breathing device at Sheridan Memorial Hospital.
“The hospital’s decision to abandon steam sterilization was reckless and potentially dangerous for patients undergoing surgery at the hospital,” said Dr. Michael Carome, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.
Public Citizen is calling on the Wyoming Department of Health to require Sheridan Memorial Hospital to inform patients about the possible exposure and risks, offer to screen patients for possible infections the exposure may have caused and treat any patients found to have been infected.
Neither the Sheridan hospital nor the Wyoming Department of Health has received any reports of infections or complications from use of the airways, department spokesman Kim Deti said Tuesday.
An anonymous complaint led to the Department of Health’s investigation, said Laura Hudspeth, deputy administrator of health care licensing and surveys.
“We went in and verified it was a problem and it was within just a number of hours that they gave us an action plan and corrected the problem,” Hudspeth said Tuesday.
The correction plan included autoclaving the equipment and setting up a system to track how many times each airway is used.
The breathing devices used by the Sheridan hospital can only be used a limited number of times, she said.
“We don’t see this issue that often because most hospitals use disposable LMAs,” Hudspeth added.
The department was concerned, she said, because tracking and sterilization of the airways is important to be sure the equipment is working properly.
The Sheridan hospital issued a media release Tuesday afternoon explaining that the process to disinfect LMAs between surgical patients had been modified in May.
That process, since discontinued, included a thorough brush scrubbing, then placing the airways in the washer sterilizer where they were cleaned with soap, enzymatic chemicals and heated to sterilization levels.
It did not include autoclaving or steam sterilization, as the manufacturer and the Department of Health recommend.
The hospital’s release did not say why the hospital changed the sterilization method.
The Public Citizen website includes a Feb. 12 staff memo from Lionel J. Gagner Jr., manager of surgical services at the Sheridan hospital.
The correction plan, the memo said, includes all LMAs being cataloged using a spreadsheet so they can be replaced at the appropriate time.
The plan also includes sterilization of the equipment according to the manufacturer’s recommendation.
“I want to insure all physicians and staff that the LMAs are being reprocessed at the highest standard to insure patient as well as staff safety,” Gagner wrote.