CASPER, Wyo. — Sheridan Memorial Hospital has offered free testing for diseases to 307 former patients who had a procedure in which a potentially infected reusable airway was used.
The patients used the airway between June 1 through Nov. 8. The letters recommend they have blood tests for hepatitis B and C and HIV.
During the period in question, the sterilization procedure for the reusable airways didn't include steam autoclaving, which was contrary to the hospital's own policy and the recommendation of the airway manufacturer.
The hospital recently switched to disposable airways, which are discarded after one use.
The airway device is inserted into a patient's throat to provide anesthesia and mechanical ventilation during surgery.
A private laboratory in Sheridan will perform the blood draws, said Mike McCafferty, the hospital's chief executive officer.
McCafferty said the former patients are most interested in what level of risk of infection they face.
"They recognize it is low, but how low is low?" McCafferty said.
The Wyoming Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention haven't been able to produce "great quantifiable data" on the risk involved, he said.
However, the CDC referred to study by the American Society of Endoscopy on reprocessing of scopes used in patient examinations. The study said the risk of infection was one in 1.8 million cases.
The hospital identified 1,140 patients who underwent procedures between June 1 and Nov. 8. But only 307 procedures required use of the airway.
The hospital sent information packets to all 1,140 patients to notify them whether their procedure required use of the airway.
For those that did not use the airways, the letter assures them there is nothing further they need to do.
The 307 patients who did use the airways will receive further details regarding testing, McCafferty said.
"The bottom line is we're recommending they take blood testing," McCafferty said. "We're using a third-party lab, a private lab in Sheridan to draw the blood."
The blood will be tested by different lab. Patients will decide where the test results are to be sent.
Before June 1, the hospital sterilized the airways by a procedure that included a steam autoclave, as recommended by the airway manufacturer. McCafferty said for some reason the hospital surgical services unit switched to a sterilization method that excluded autoclaving.
McCafferty said Wednesday that hospital officials continue to investigate the reason for the change in procedure.
In November, acting on an anonymous tip, the Wyoming Department of Health investigated the hospital's airway sterilization procedure.
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer watchdog organization based in Washington, D.C. Earlier this year, it warned of the danger of infection after learning of the department's investigation from an internal hospital memo and other sources.
Public Citizen also called on the 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 to treat any patients found to have been infected.