Over 700 veterans may have been exposed to the HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C viruses after a medical oversight allowed insulin pens to be shared between multiple patients at a Buffalo, NY hospital. According to hospital officials, the insulin pens — which are each supposed to be designated for a single patient, to help prevent the spread of diseases — were used incorrectly over a two-year period.
In November, pharmacy inspection rounds revealed that the hospital was storing insulin pens in supply drawers without any patient labels on them — despite the fact that the federal government has been warning against the practice of sharing insulin needles for years. In 2009, after a similar incident at a Texas hospital put more than 2,000 patients at risk, the Food and Drug Administration issued an alert about the issue.
“What has happened can only be described as the grossest of irresponsible and dangerous behavior,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said of the incident. And representatives from the Buffalo area, including Rep. Brian Higgins (D) and Rep. Chris Collins (R), are now seeking an investigation into the hospital’s practices:
“Beyond the fact that the error occurred at all, most concerning was the length of time it took the Buffalo VA to catch the error — over two years, as well as the three-month delay in informing patients who may have been exposed,” Higgins, whose district includes the city of Buffalo, wrote in a letter to the VA on Monday. “Also detail why affected patients weren’t notified immediately.” [...]
“Unfortunately, since the day that new technology was introduced at the VA, they did not have a protocol in place that let the nurses know they were not supposed to use the cartridge on more than one patient,” Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Collins told CNN affiliate WGRZ. Collins also called the situation in Buffalo “unacceptable.” [...]
Higgins has also requested a detailed response outlining what steps will be taken to prevent any similar issues in the future.
An official from the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Melissa Schaefer, told the Associated Press the CDC believes these incidents still go underreported despite previous warnings from federal public health officials. Part of the problem may be that some medical professionals, like the staff at the Buffalo-area hospital, may believe it’s safe to reuse insulin pens if they simply change the needle within the pen.
But Scaefer explained that’s not the case. “Reuse of insulin pens for more than one patient essentially is akin to syringe reuse,” she said. “You can get back flow of blood into that syringe or cartridge that contains the insulin and then you potentially expose others patients. And changing the needle wouldn’t make it safe for multi-patient use.”