Dozens of patients at CareAlliance Health Services (CHS) medical facilities, including Roper Hospital’s main campus, have been infected with non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), a type of bacterium that can cause serious harm if left untreated. CHS failed to notify the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the outbreak until June 16, 2016, according to a complaint filed by McGowan, Hood & Felder. Once DHEC learned of the infections, it contacted the CDC for guidance in the preliminary investigation. Both DHEC and Roper requested on-site assistance from CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service officers and other CDC subject matter experts.
The ten-day site visit from the CDC yielded reports of several lapses in infection control practices, including, but not limited to:
- Improper surgical attire
- Jewelry worn
- Hair uncovered
- Improper changing of gloves
- Masks not secured when entering the operating room
The complaint notes other lapses, including a lack of supplies, computer issues, non-scrubbed visitors going in and out of the operating room, utilization of flash sterilization, and breaks in aseptic technique.
The issue of contaminated water in CHS facilities
According to the complaint, around the same time the lapses in surgical procedures were observed, water tested from Roper Hospital’s water distribution system was found to have high levels of bacterial growth, the presence of Legionella species and various strains of NTM. The complaint states:
The negligent, grossly negligent, reckless, and/or wanton acts and/or omissions of many different people allowed the deadly pathogens to exist and populate. This conduct amounts to conscious disregard for maintaining a safe and sterile facility, or for safely performing medical procedures.
Given that NTM is not an uncommon pathogen in water systems, the complaint counters that the patients could have been protected from exposure to these pathogens had the medical staff used proper care, techniques, procedures, or protocols. Because of the infections, multiple patients were forced to undergo several additional surgeries, endure pain and suffering, and incur unnecessary expense.
A story on News 2 reports that DHEC’s epidemiologist, Dr. Linda Bell, recommended that Roper Hospital invest in a water treatment system that would address the bacteria and biofilm in its water distribution system. Dr. Bell also recommended that the hospital improve its infection control practices and increase staff training in infection control.
DHEC required the hospital to alert patients about the problems with the water system and the possibility of infections. However, the sickened patients who are clients of McGowan, Hood & Felder told News 2 that they never received such a notice.
Recommendations from the CDC
The CDC report included recommendations for Roper Hospital to correct some of the troubling issues at the facility including:
- Strengthen adherence to infection control practices.
- Continue enhanced passive surveillance of all surgical site infections.
- Implement a temporary, supplemental chlorine-based water treatment plan to remove bacteria and biofilm from the water system.
- Devise a communication plan for patient notification that would educate at-risk patients regarding symptoms that should prompt follow-up with their doctor.
The DHEC gave Roper until October 2016 to comply with the CDC recommendations. However, Roper did not complete its part until June 1, 2017 under a threat from DHEC’s general counsel that if it did not provide confirmation of compliance with the recommendations, DHEC would issue a Public Health Advisory about the infection outbreak and warning the public of the dangers it posed.
McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC is accepting cases from patients who have undergone medical procedures at Roper or any hospital and acquired an infection, or who have been exposed to NTM by a medical device (usually due to faulty procedure at a hospital). We understand how to investigate cases related to these bacteria, and we will fight for your rights in courtrooms here in South Carolina and across the country. To find out more about our firm, or to speak with an experienced South Carolina medical malpractice attorney, please call 803-327-7800 or fill out our contact form. Let us help you protect yourself, your family, and your future.