More than 850 patients and 43 employees were exposed to tuberculosis at El Paso’s Providence Memorial Hospital between September 2013 and August 2014, when a nursery worker contracted an active form of the virus. Since then, the number of parents who will be notified of possible exposure has increased by 96, based on new state and federal recommendations.
This incident is particularly serious, not only because of the number of people who were exposed, but also because according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infants and young children are more likely to develop life-threatening forms of TB.Tuberculosis is caused by germs that are spread through the air, often through coughing and sneezing. While it usually affects the lungs, it can also affect the brain, the kidneys or the spine. Without treatment, tuberculosis can be fatal.
The good news is that according to initial reports from the El Paso Department of Public Health, only five babies have tested positive for tuberculosis and none of them have active TB, the most deadly and contagious form of the illness.
The question is: How did this incident occur? Especially since Providence Memorial screens their employees on a yearly basis for TB and other diseases. In fact, the infected employee was screened for TB in both 2013 and 2014.
Even with these precautions, on Aug. 21, the infected nursery worker appeared to develop symptoms after her last screening. The worker’s primary care physician directed her to get a TB test, and she tested positive on Aug. 25.
While the hospital conducted TB screenings on a yearly basis, the Texas Department of State Health Services conducted an on-site investigation and found serious deficiencies in the areas of infection control, patient rights and governing body. More importantly, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has given the hospital until October 11 to identify policy changes that need to be put in place to ensure this won’t happen again. If the hospital fails to meet these requirements, it risks losing its Medicaid and Medicare funding.
According to a Newsweek, “the threat [of tuberculosis] is evolving – not only in the developing world, but also inside the United States, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded nearly 10,000 cases of TB last year.” As a result, healthcare facilities need to be continue to be vigilant and check not only their staff, but also their visitors, volunteers, students and healthcare representatives for TB.
Different facilities face different levels of risk. For instance, the fact that Providence Memorial is located in Texas means that is more likely for its employees and patients to be exposed to TB. Collectively, California, Texas, New York and Florida reported almost half of all the TB cases in the United States in 2013 even though they make up only one third of the US population. Texas had a rate of 4.6 tuberculosis cases per 100,000 in population versus the national average of 3.0 cases per 100,000.
Companies like IntelliCentrics can customize testing and training to match a healthcare facility’s risk level and category of visitor. With IntelliCentrics SEC3URETM, you can improve patient safety by ensuring your organization’s policies are applied consistently and universally to every person, from doctor to volunteer, who enters your facility.


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