Piedmont patients asked to get tested after cleaning mishap

by: Richard Elliot Updated:

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ATLANTA —

The Georgia Department of Health confirms it was notified by Piedmont Healthcare that for two years, it failed to properly clean equipment used after colonoscopies.

As a result, the hospital sent out letters for 456 patients advising them to get tested for hepatitis B, C and HIV.

Piedmont Healthcare said between May 2011 and April 2013, employees at its Piedmont West Surgery Center on Howell Mill Road only performed one cleansing of the colonoscopy devices instead of the recommended two cleansings.

"While the surgery staff has been diligent in cleaning the equipment with enzymatic soap after every use, the recommended final step of soaking the equipment in a high-level disinfectant did not occur," the health care provider said in a written statement.  "We sincerely regret and apologize for this situation and have taken the necessary steps to ensure this does not happen again."

The employee responsible for the situation resigned before Piedmont could fire the employee.

Georgia Health Department's Director of Health Protection Dr. Patrick O'Neal confirmed that Piedmont notified them of the failure, but unless a patient tests positive for any of the diseases, there may not be much the state can do.

"They indicated what actions they were taking in response to that, and we felt they were very appropriate," said O'Neal. "At this point, we're essentially waiting to see the results of the testing that will occur of these individuals who had these colonoscopies."

O'Neal said the state has general procedures for cleaning surgical devices, but those procedures are based on the recommendations of the individual device makers and vendors.

O'Neal stressed that the initial cleaning probably removed virtually all of the germs, but also said there is a very small possibility that a patient could have contracted a disease from the procedure.

"The likelihood of that is extraordinarily remote, but there is a remote risk," said O'Neal.  "I think Piedmont was wise in doing exactly what they did to notify these folks and suggest they be tested just to be on the safe side."

O'Neal said it's unlikely the state will take any actions against Piedmont unless one of the patients tests positive for a disease.  If that happens, the state could go in and test the devices to make sure they are being properly cleaned.