Scope-linked outbreaks lead Virginia Mason to expand cleaning process

But reforms carry major cost burden, warns hospital leader

Years after becoming part of an outbreak of drug-resistant bacteria linked to contaminated medical scopes, a Seattle provider has revamped its practices to keep history from repeating itself, according to Becker's Hospital Review.

Thirty-two patients at Virginia Mason Medical Center contracted antibiotic-resistant E. coli infections between November 2012 and August 2013 even though the hospital followed recommended cleaning procedures for endoscopes.

A Senate report found blame to share among the scopes' manufacturers, federal agencies and affected hospitals. Since the outbreak, Virginia Mason has expanded its protocols for decontaminating the scopes, according to the article. Within seven months of the outbreak's end, the hospital had implemented extra steps such as a culture and quarantine process in addition to the recommended manual and automated cleaning, Andrew Ross, M.D., section head of gastroenterology at the hospital, told the publication. Virginia Mason now devotes days to a formerly hour-long process, Ross said.

Ross cautioned that the costs to expand the cleaning process were "astronomical" and may not be feasible for all hospitals. To add the extra steps, he said, the hospital was forced to buy 20 more scopes to accommodate its clinical volume. Previous coverage indicates the hospital spent $1 million on the new scopes. "This is what worked for us at a time where we had an outbreak, this is what we needed to do in order to keep our patients safe, and it's continued to be able to provide them with a medical care that they need," he told Becker's.

Cost considerations for safeguarding against future outbreaks have been a major bone of contention among the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the American Hospital Association as well; in the wake of the Senate report, the agency and the lobbying group warned that its proposed technological solutions presented a major cost burden, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

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