Hospital Worker Unwittingly Exposed Almost 800 People To Tuberculosis

A hospital in El Paso is in full damage control mode after it learned a nurse assistant unwittingly put almost 800 people–including over 750 babies–at risk of getting tuberculosis.

The woman, whose identity is being withheld due to privacy laws, worked in the nursery of Providence Memorial Hospital in El Paso. She is believed to have been infected with TB as early as September 2013. A yearly health screening in July 2014 revealed she had symptoms of TB, but it took a month for her to get tested. She was diagnosed with TB on August 27, and has been on leave since then. According to initial estimates, she was believed to have exposed 706 babies and 42 of her coworkers to the disease. However, on Wednesday, hospital officials announced that based on their review, an additional 45 babies had been exposed. According to Carrie Williams, head of the El Paso Department of Public Health, it is one of the largest cases of TB exposure in Texas history. All of the exposed workers have been tested, and as of yet none of them show signs of infection. No one who has been exposed can breathe easy yet, though; TB can remain dormant for months or even years. However, if caught in time, it can easily be treated with antibiotics.

Providence Memorial Hospital in El Paso (courtesy New York Daily News)
Providence Memorial Hospital in El Paso (courtesy New York Daily News)


According to the El Paso Times, the El Paso Health Department has contacted the parents of every baby born at the hospital between September 1, 2013 and August 16, 2014 asking them to bring their babies in for a free TB test. Included in that total are 54 babies from New Mexico, one in Arizona and 26 across the Rio Grande in Mexico. One of the Mexican parents, Esmeralda Garcia, brought her six-month-old daughter, Daniela, to El Paso as soon as she heard about the exposure on the news. She said that she wasn’t willing to wait for the letter to arrive because mail from the United States can take “two weeks to a month” to be delivered, and on some occasions international mail never arrives at all.

Soon after the exposure came to light, officials from the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services inspected the hospital and found numerous deficiencies not only in infection prevention, but also in governance and protection of patients’ rights. CMS wrote a rather stern letter to Providence stating that those deficiencies pose “immediate jeopardy” to patients. Unless they are corrected at once, Providence will be kicked out of Medicare and Medicaid on October 11. Eric Evans, the CEO of Providence’s parent organization, Sierra Providence Health Network, admitted that Providence dropped the ball when the woman initially showed signs of TB, but believes the action plan that the hospital drafted will be sufficient to keep Providence in the Medicare program.

It’s going to be pretty interesting, to say the least, to find out how it took a month for this woman to go in for testing–and how she was allowed to be around the nursery in that time. Given the stakes, those answers will probably come sooner than later.

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Darrell Lucus.jpg Darrell Lucus, also known as Christian Dem in NC at Daily Kos, is a radical-lefty Jesus-lover who has been blogging for change for a decade. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook.

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