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Documents: Iowa hospital patients not told of risk


By Associated Press
Posted: June 22, 2014 - 11:30 am ET
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Documents in an unemployment benefits case show that a Council Bluffs, Iowa, hospital administrator resigned his post last year after his superiors refused to tell patients that surgical instruments used on them hadn't been properly sterilized.

Robert Owen Burgin was a registered nurse and the infection-control specialist for Mercy Hospital in Council Bluffs — part of the Alegent Creighton Health system — when he resigned April 12, 2013, The Des Moines Register reported Saturday. State records show he quit after making several attempts to get permission to tell two patients they were at risk of infection from blood-borne pathogens because of unclean surgical instruments used during their operations.

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The documents say he was told by a supervisor that if he continued to pursue the matter, it could cost him his job.

The matter became public when Burgin filed for unemployment benefits and the hospital challenged his claim.

Last week, Administrative Law Judge Terence Nice ruled in favor of Burgin, saying the nurse "felt intimidated to stop his activities" and had resigned for good cause because of the hospital's actions.

Burgin testified that he became aware of the two operating-room incidents in late 2012 after overhearing a conversation between hospital staffers. He made inquiries and discovered there were six surgical cases in which patient health might have been compromised. Two of the cases could be confirmed, he said.

Hospital records introduced as exhibits during the unemployment hearing included an incident report about one operation. It showed that one hour into the operation, the surgical staff realized there was blood from a previous patient on one of the instruments.

Burgin testified that after reviewing the records, he repeatedly argued for full disclosure to the two patients so they could contact their doctors and arrange for blood tests and physician monitoring of surgical sites. He also testified that Mercy's written policy called for the staff to inform patients of any error that didn't cause immediate harm but created a need for monitoring and intervention.

Burgin says the hospital's quality director rejected his requests to tell the patients and that the director once told him that Mercy "was one of the largest health care employers in the area and that I would be blackballed from getting a job as a nurse in this area."

A message left at the office of an Alegent Creighton Health spokeswoman on Saturday was not immediately returned.


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