Virginia Mason Medical Center, responding Saturday after numerous press reports of deaths at its facility over a two-year period, said in a statement that the problem stemmed from endoscope cleaning guidelines that were inadequate.
“We determined that the endoscope manufacturer's, as well as the federal government's, recommended guidelines for cleaning ERCP scopes are inadequate. This is a national problem. We've developed and implemented a better and more thorough process that is the most rigorous in the nation,” the statement sent to Modern Healthcare said.
“We believe our method for preparing endoscopes for medical procedures should now become the national standard,” read the statement from the Seattle-based provider. “We invited in and fully collaborated with Public Health-Seattle & King County and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the investigation into the sources of the bacteria. Patient safety is our highest priority.”
County health officials revealed earlier this week that 32 people had become infected at Virginia Mason with a so-called superbug, the rare Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae, from 2012 to 2014. Eleven patients died but because they had been in critical condition before being infected it's not certain what role, if any, the infections played in their eventual deaths.
The affected device apparently was used during endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, a technique that can allow a doctor to see inside the stomach and duodenum.
Problems with endoscopes also have cropped up in Chicago and Pittsburgh in recent years.
“Virginia Mason is one of the safest hospitals in the world at which to undergo the ERCP procedure. We discovered a problem more than a year ago, we responded quickly to investigate potential causes, and we worked to fix the problem,” the provider said.
To deal with the problem, Virginia Mason reportedly bought additional scopes so it could quarantine those used in procedures to observe for the bacteria's possible growth. That solution reportedly cost it nearly $1 million.
Dr. Gary Kaplan, chairman and CEO of Virginia Mason Health System in Seattle, has been on the Modern Healthcare Most Influential list nine times and is No. 3 on the 2014 list. His hospital last year received its fourth straight A grade in patient safety from the Leapfrog Group coalition of healthcare purchasers.
Follow John N. Frank on Twitter: @MHJFrank