Shari Rudavsky, Indianapolis Star
Published 1:30 p.m. ET Nov. 25, 2019 | Updated 1:35 p.m. ET Nov. 25, 2019CLOSE
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Just the FAQs, USA TODAYA Northern Indiana hospital is facing legal action after it potentially exposed more than a thousand patients to blood-borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis by failing to properly sterilize surgical equipment.A lawsuit filed Friday in Elkhart County Superior Court and brought on behalf of a single patient aims to become a class action against Goshen Health.Earlier this month the hospital sent letters to what officials termed a “small portion of surgical patients” who could have been exposed to blood-borne viruses through the unclean instruments from April to September.The problem dates to April, when one of seven sterilization technicians working at the hospital failed to complete one step in a multistep cleaning process of surgical equipment, according to a statement from the hospital posted last week.Goshen Health officials said in a statement that the chance of infection was “extremely remote,” but the letters recommended that patients be screened for HIV as well as hepatitis B and C. The hospital’s president and chief executive officer, Randal Christophel, and chief medical officer, Daniel Nafziger, signed the letter.While the hospital acknowledged skipping a step in sterilizing the instruments, it said in the statement that the equipment did undergo cleaning with chemicals, disinfection with a machine washer or ultrasonic cleaner and high steam temperatures and pressure. However, the lawsuit says that the notification that instruments used during a June surgery “may or may not have been sterile” caused plaintiff Linda Gierek to suffer extreme emotional distress that could continue for years.A single test will not necessarily allay fears of infection, said Steven Alvarez, an attorney with the Alvarez Law Office in Crown Point, which filed the lawsuit. HIV and hepatitis viruses can take months to show up in screening, so those affected may need to undergo multiple tests to ensure that they are healthy.In addition, Alvarez said, it is not just patients who could be affected but their spouses and sexual partners because those viruses can be transmitted through sex.Since learning of the breach in procedure, the hospital has bought new equipment, used in only a few other hospitals, to reduce the chance of human error, Goshen’s statement said. It also set up a call center to help answer patients’ questions about screening.“While the testing and communication goes beyond what may be needed, we want to take every precaution to ensure the safety and well-being of our community,” the statement said. “When we make a mistake, we want our community to be confident that we will not hide from our failure, but take action to correct the error and ensure that it does not happen again.” Contact IndyStar reporter Shari Rudavsky at 317-444-6354 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter: @srudavsky.Read or Share this story: https://www.indystar.com/story/news/health/2019/11/25/indiana-goshen-hospital-potentially-exposes-1000-surgical-patients-hiv/4298063002/
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