South Nassau Communities Hospital is recommending that “a specific group of patients” get tested for HIV and hepatitis B and C after discovering that they may have been treated with contaminated insulin.
The recommendation comes after senior nursing administrative officials were informed by a member of South Nassau nursing staff that a colleague mentioned believing that it was “OK” for nurses to reuse insulin pen reservoirs, the part of an insulin pen where the insulin hormone is held until it is injected into a patient. According to Damian Becker, the hospital’s spokesperson, risk of infection is “extremely low,” but the hospital urges patients to follow up just in case, out of an “abundance of caution.”
“We’re not talking about sharing needles here, but about insulin pens,” said Becker. “Nobody ever witnessed the practice being done. Nobody has even said that it was done. It was just that one nurse said to another nurse that her understanding was that it was OK…. From that point, we contacted the NYS Dept. of Health and from there have worked with them to contact the patients that may have been exposed.”
To schedule a blood test, call the SNCH toll-free hotline for patients at (516) 208-0029.
The hospital maintains that no single-use needles were reused, but after consulting the New York State Department of Health, the hospital found it necessary to notify patients, even if the chance of contamination is slim. The notification process was voluntary, and not mandated by the Department of Health.
“It seems to be a prevailing sentiment that [with] insulin pens, let’s just say, it’s OK to share them with other patients because you’re not reusing the needle,” Becker said. “Most of the regulatory agencies and associations that research these matters think it’s highly, highly, highly unlikely that there’s any contamination, but that’s not the issue here on hand.”
As of March 12, the hospital had received approximately 300 responses from patients, Becker said, and testing has already begun for some of the patients who responded quickly. The testing process usually takes up to two weeks before results come in.
“In terms of length of time, I can say that we expect to continue and manage this and respond to it appropriately with respect for our patients and with respect for our mission to the community. I don’t think we have any other expectations other than to be accountable to our patients and the communities we serve.”
The hospital began sending out letters to diabetic patients in February, and outlined its response to the situation in a statement sent to the Herald on Wednesday morning, which said: “To facilitate the [testing] process, the hospital is offering the patients free and confidential blood testing services. It has established a dedicated telephone number that the patients may call to schedule a blood test within 60 days after receiving the letter.”
SNCH has also implemented a hospital-wide policy banning the use of insulin pens and permitting only single-patient-use vials for administering treatments. Many administrators at other local hospitals, such as Catherine Hottendorf, executive director at Franklin Hospital, in Valley Stream, have confirmed that their health institutions do not use insulin pens at all.
Additional reporting by Vikas Girdhar