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El Paso hospital drops the ball and exposes 700 babies to TB

The hospital is supposed to be a safe haven for your newborn baby, considering that the vast majority of mothers birth in hospitals. The last thing a new parent wants to hear is that their infant has been exposed to a serious illness when they are most vulnerable.

This is precisely what happened at Providence Memorial Hospital in El Paso, Texas. Over the course of the past year, more than 700 infants were exposed to tuberculosis by a recently diagnosed hospital employee. The infected employee worked in the hospital nursery before being placed on leave after testing positive for TB on Aug. 25, 2014. Exposure totals at more than 700 infants and 40 hospital workers spanning from September 2013 to August 2014.

The fact that this exposure took place in a hospital nursery is particularly troubling. Texas Department of State Health Services spokeswoman Carrie Williams deems this one of the largest cases of TB exposure that the state health department has dealt with. She says, “Babies are more likely than older children and adults to develop life-threatening forms of TB.”

Normally, tuberculosis is not highly contagious. The illness is spread when an infected carrier sneezes or coughs, releasing droplets into the air. The spread of TB requires close contact over a long period of time, made possible by the intimacy of this hospital nursery setting.

The discovery of this mass exposure has led to a hospital inspection. Several key violations were uncovered that could affect the hospital’s Medicare funding as they posed an immediate threat to patient safety, according to David Wright, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services deputy regional administrator.

I translate this as — the hospital was cutting corners, and the “TB slip-up” was what caused them to get caught. While I’m sure that any violation that jeopardizes patient safety is a big deal, exposing newborns to disease from day one is unconscionable.

The hospital is supposed to be a safe place. Parents want to check in during labor knowing that they are in good hands. Now, because of this hospital’s oversight, more than 700 infants must receive post-exposure screenings and free follow-up treatments for a potentially life-threatening illness.

I have been a new parent before, and I can tell you that this is the last thing a new parent needs. Not only are these new parents exhausted, overwhelmed and sleep deprived, but now they have to worry about treating a serious illness in their newborn. This hospital messed up.

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