Local News

Cape Fear mistakes put hospital at risk of losing federal funds

Posted October 21, 2008 4:46 p.m. EDT
Updated October 21, 2008 7:25 p.m. EDT

— A Fayetteville hospital where more than 150 patients were potentially exposed to improperly sterilized surgical instruments is at risk of losing federal funding.

Officials at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center were notified orally last week that the facility has been placed in immediate jeopardy of losing its provider status for Medicare and Medicaid.

That means the hospital must put a corrective action plan in place and be evaluated by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services within the next three weeks.

At a news conference Tuesday, officials said new procedures for sterilizing instruments and new documentation requirements have already been put in place.

Until a final decision is made, the hospital will continue to receive federal funding. Hospital officials say they are confident the federal funding will not be terminated.

At the same time, hospital officials said they do not believe any patients have suffered from surgical infections as a result of the exposure.

“No harm has occurred to any of our patients,” said Michael Nagowski, chief executive officer of Cape Fear Valley Health System. “Good processes have been further strengthened to assure that this type of event does not happen again.”

The hospital says the instruments were used on patients Oct. 5-7 and that a surgical infection would be identified within 10 days.

Chief medical officer Dr. Eugene Wright says the instruments were cleaned and packaged but had not been sterilized with steam – the final step of the process.

Wright said the hospital discovered the problem Oct. 6 when a technician noticed that an instrument package had not been steamed. Packages have chemical indicators that show whether they have been exposed to steam.

Staff members have identified at lease six boxes of unsterilized instruments, but admit there is no evidence to prove a potentially harmful tray of instruments was not used on a patient.

"We erred on the side of patient safety," Wright said. "So, if we could not prove they had not (been exposed), we chose to notify (patients)."