Mercy Regional Medical Center has cut back on all nonemergent and elective procedures after hospital staff members discovered cleaning and sterilization issues with some surgical equipment.
“We know this causes significant inconvenience for our patients,” Patrick Sharp, who took over as CEO for Mercy in late January, said in a statement. “However, safety and quality remain our priority.”
Sharp said hospital staff members decided to pause all nonemergent and elective procedures Feb. 19 to address the issue. It’s unclear when a limited amount of surgeries were able to resume.
“As part of our quality and safety review process, we identified a potential process gap in cleaning some surgical trays and instruments,” he said. “Any tray and instrument identified in the gap was removed prior to use.”
A “gap” is considered a variation in the hospital’s standard cleaning process, Sharp said, but he did not comment further about the details of the problem.
Sharp said all procedural instruments identified as an issue are being reprocessed.
“The pause in nonemergent procedures allowed us to prioritize the reprocessing of all instruments for emergency and time-sensitive procedures for our community,” he said.
Emergency and time-sensitive procedures have continued during this time, Sharp said. Surgery volume is now at 75% of normal volume, which for Mercy is 15 to 20 surgeries per day, and does include nonemergent and elective procedures.
“We will continue to prioritize these procedures in partnership with our physicians until all procedural instruments have been reprocessed,” Sharp said.
Sharp added, “We are not aware of any infections (to patients) caused by this potential processing gap.”
Sterilization issues at hospitals should be reported to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. A CDPHE spokeswoman did not provide comment Thursday afternoon.
In February 2020, it came to light that Medicare financially penalized Mercy Regional Medical Center for high rates of health problems associated with hospital care, such as infections occurring after surgery.
The hospital was penalized in 2019 for high rates of health problems related to hospital stays and was expected to be penalized again in 2020, according to a Kaiser Health News database.
Medicare withheld 1% of its payments for patients discharged from Mercy for the two years because the hospital ranked among the worst – the lower 25% – of hospitals that failed to prevent health problems related to hospital care, according to federal policy.
Mercy is owned by Centura Health. Another Centura hospital, Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver, revealed problems with cleaning equipment used in surgeries in 2018, according to The Denver Post.
At the time, hospital officials said there was only one case where a contaminated tool came close to a patient, and said the risk of infections was low. Porter Adventist Hospital briefly paused surgeries.
A state investigation, however, found the Porter Adventist Hospital staff was aware at the time patients were developing post-surgical infections at a higher rater, the Post reported.
The state’s investigation found 76 instances where a contaminated instrument or tray “tainted by blood, chunks of bone, cement, hair and even a dead insect” were brought into an operating room, the Post reported. And, the investigation found problems with how instruments were cleaned.
In 2019, more than 60 patients sued the hospital. Many claimed they developed hepatitis B, meningitis, staph infections and other illnesses post-surgery. The lawsuit also alleged one person died three months after surgery because of an infection.
State records also showed at least 17 to 22 employees at the hospital experienced one or more incidents involving contaminated surgical tools, the Post reported.