Porter Adventist Hospital resuming surgeries following sterilization breach

DENVER — A Denver hospital that temporally closed its operating rooms following a sterilization breach will resume surgeries on a limited schedule Thursday.

Porter Adventist Hospital was allowed to resume surgeries after it instituted a number of changes recommended by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Hospital officials learned of the breach last week after staff noticed “a potential change in our water quality relative to our surgical equipment.”

They later discovered medical instruments used for certain surgeries were not being properly sterilized over the past two years, potentially exposing some patients to hepatitis B or C, or HIV.

The hospital canceled several procedures and notified patients of the breach. It offered free blood tests to patients who were worried about having contracted a disease.

The hospital said it stopped those surgeries over two main concerns. The first was a possible problem with the cleaning process for surgical tools following orthopedic and spinal surgeries. The second concern was related to residue being left on surgical tools even after sterilization. 

Both problems were believed to be linked to a water quality issue. Porter had its water tested and said it in a statement the water was found to fall "well within the typical range found in drinking water." 

However, it didn't explain what the water was tested for or what a typical range is. 

The risk to patients is unknown but Porter believes it's low. State health officials said Wednesday that a number of patients had reported getting surgical site infections. 

However, a statement from the hospital said, "It is unknown if these infections are linked to the breach, and we may not be able to determine linkage. In addition, the department may not be able to determine if any cases of hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV that may be detected are linked to the breach."

A legal expert Denver7 spoke with said even if patients contracted an infection, it will be difficult to prove that it was the hospital's fault.

Last week, the hospital expanded the window of patients who might have been exposed to include anyone who had an orthopedic or spinal surgery between July 21, 2016 and last Thursday. A letter was sent out to patients last week who may have been affected.

Denver7 reached out to Porter last week to ask for an interview about the problems but our interview request was denied. In a statement, the hospital said it cannot comment further because an investigation is ongoing. 

The health department is involved in that investigation and is expected to release a report this summer with its findings. 

Porter has established a hotline for patient questions. The phone number is 303-778-5694.

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