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Medical Scope Sanitation Blamed for Patient Death in California

The officials conducting a surprise spot check of California’s Huntington Hospital in August of 2015 discovered something much different than they were expecting when they found what they called a “‘top to bottom’ failure of patient safety procedures.’” This failure included a lack of proper sanitization of equipment, specifically with scopes used in procedures like gastric examinations. The unsanitary scopes were to blame for sixteen unreported infections between 2013 and mid-2015, eleven of those sixteen infections resulting in death.

The hospital violated California laws by failing to report the breakout of a drug-resistant infection. City health officials did not look into the causes of death of the eleven victims of the infection, and it was only listed as the cause of death for one of the patients. A medical malpractice lawyer for three of the patients (two of whom died) claimed that the patients’ medical records stated that they contracted an infection after a procedure which used a duodenoscope, the type of medical scope responsible for spreading the infection. Instead of citing this untreatable infection as the cause of death, problems such as heart failure and pancreatic cancer were named as the culprits.

A hospital spokeswoman stated that the facility took responsibility for what had happened and added that the scopes were a problem facing many hospitals. County officials alerted the city’s public health department to a possible outbreak of the infection in August of 2015 when thirty-five patients were suspected to have contracted it. The city’s investigation blamed the difficult-to-clean design of the scope, as well as the hospital’s lack of infection control, for the outbreak.

Medical Scope SanitationOfficials found visible residue inside the machines where the scopes were disinfected. They also stated that employees were using canned compressed air purchased at Office Depot to dry the scopes, a clear breach of sanitation guidelines. A medical malpractice law firm was brought in to evaluate the situation after it was found that Huntington Hospital reported three deaths to the manufacturer of the scope rather than to the city officials.

Two other hospitals in the area were also under fire for similar problems involving the duodenoscopes and spreading infections. Personal injury medical malpractice attorneys were needed to support the patients who contracted the infection.

The “Superbug” Associated With Duodenoscope

A 2012 outbreak of Pseudomonas aeruginosa (the infection that killed the eleven Huntington Hospital patients) in the Netherlands was the first sign of trouble. The inside of the duodenoscope was supposed to be closed off completely; instead, it was open, letting in bacteria. Once it entered, it multiplied and became something health officials call a “nightmare bacteria.” It is extremely resistant to antibiotics and as many as half of those infected by this bacterium die.

Infection-Spreading Scopes in Other Areas

It wasn’t just the Los Angeles area that was affected by the difficult-to-clean scopes and the infection they spread. From 2012 to 2015, over 250 people in the United States and Europe were sickened by the unsanitized scopes. In the Chicago, Illinois area in 2013, thirty-nine patients were infected and two died, causing a need for a Chicago medical malpractice attorney.

Other greatly affected areas include Washington State, especially the Seattle area, New York, Florida, Wisconsin, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. The first outbreak took place in the Netherlands in 2012.

Manufacturer of Faulty Scope’s Reaction

Olympus Corporation of Japan, the manufacturer of 75 percent of all duodenoscopes use in the United States, voluntarily offered to recall and redesign the scopes after the massive outbreak of infections in an attempt to prevent future outbreaks. However, this offer to recall and redesign the scopes only came after several negative interactions with the corporation.

The scopes produced by Olympus are used in hundreds of thousands of procedures annually in the United States to drain fluids from pancreatic and bile ducts. However, the newer design of these scopes is so intricate and advanced that it is difficult to completely sanitize them. Beginning in February 2016, Olympus recalled all of its scopes in use across the United States and replaced them with a less intricate, easier-to-clean model. Olympus also stated that it would conduct annual inspections of each scope to monitor for wear and tear that could allow bacteria into the scope.

Some Hospitals Will Not Wait for FDA

Many hospitals linked to infectious outbreaks using medical scopes have chosen not to wait for the Food and Drug Administration’s response. Instead, they have developed, implemented and enforced new safety procedures. This includes Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center that has adopted new protocols to clean their scopes requiring the quarantine of all scopes after cleaning and retesting the device before it can be reused in a subsequent procedure.

Advocate Lutheran General Hospital just outside Chicago has begun using ETO gas sterilization as a way to ensure any lingering bacteria inside the scope is completely destroyed between uses.

Taking a proactive approach to cleaning the scopes has come at a cost to many of these hospitals that are unaffordable for many smaller facilities throughout the United States. This includes additional staff required to clean and test the devices and the purchase of additional scopes to ensure there is an adequate amount of cleaned and tested devices on hand to meet the needs of their physicians.


Copyright © 2021, Rosenfeld Injury LawyersNational Law Review, Volume VI, Number 263

About this Author

Jonathan Rosenfeld, Personal Injury Lawyer, Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers

I’m an Illinois lawyer with a nationwide practice who represents members of our society who have been seriously injured or killed due to the irresponsible acts of an individual or company. The injured have the same rights as everyone else — to be treated with compassion and respect— but their vulnerability means they need special protection and representation against those who injure, neglect or abuse them. This is my life’s work.

I recognize that an injured person has one opportunity to get the compensation that the law allows. I am fully dedicated and mindful of this...