350 call York Hospital about bacteria exposure

William Acker had aortic valve replacement surgery at York Hospital in March 2014.

He’s one of 1,300 who received a letter this week from the hospital explaining that some open-heart surgery patients could have been exposed to bacteria during their operations.

His wife, Charla Acker, is frustrated with the way the hospital communicated the information to its patients. She’s worried and she said she feels like she’s not getting many answers from the hospital.

Acker found out about the issue from a TV newscast and later found a letter from York Hospital waiting at home.

The letter, which the hospital sent to 1,300 of its open-heart surgery patients, said that they could have had exposure to bacteria during their procedure between Oct. 1, 2011, and July 24, 2015, according to a news release sent by the hospital Monday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated and shared its findings with the hospital Oct. 15 that eight probable cases were found. Four of those patients, who all had complex medical conditions, have since died, according to the release. The CDC hasn’t directly linked the deaths to the infections, but the news release says it is likely a contributing factor.

Current patients are no longer at risk of exposure, according to the letter sent to patients.

More than 350 calls have been made to the nurse call center that was set up Monday morning, said Brett Marcy, hospital spokesman. About 80 percent of calls have come from patients who have received the letter. The other 20 percent hadn’t received the letter but just wanted to know more about the issue.

WellSpan’s cleaning protocols for devices used in these procedures “did not align perfectly with the original guidelines provided by the device manufacturer,” according to the letter sent to patients.

The equipment has been replaced and cleaning protocols have been addressed, according to Monday’s news release.

The company had also changed its cleaning protocols over the past couple of years without the hospital knowing, Marcy said.

They don’t know if they had been cleaning machine correctly if they would have prevented the 8 cases, said Dr. R. Hal Baker, senior vice president of Clinical Improvement for WellSpan Health and a physician at Apple Hill Internal Medicine.

Based on information provided by the CDC, WellSpan said it believes symptoms of the bacteria exposure could take months or up to a couple of years to begin, Baker said. If a patient starts to display symptoms, the infection can be diagnosed by a culture of the area.

Unfortunately, there really is no way to be proactive in diagnosing the infection, Baker said.

“It’s frustrating that there is no test you can take to see whether you’re going to be the unlucky 1 percent or the lucky 99 percent,” Baker said.

Nothing that is recommended can change those odds and it is frustrating that people are told about something that they can’t do anything about except be aware and attentive to symptoms if they develop, he said.

Acker said she is concerned her husband will have to worry about the bacteria for years.

“(The patients) had been through a horrific ordeal already having a heart surgery and are on the road to recovery and now they have to deal with this issue,” she said.

See it on YDR here.

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