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ANALYSIS by Dr. Don Donahue, Director, Firestorm Healthcare Response Team
Two events of the past month’s news – the infection of untold hospital patients with Hepatitis C and the tragic shooting in Aurora – have unusual and unsettling commonalities.
The infections were a pernicious act performed over a lengthy period of time, while the shootings occurred in a sudden burst of incomprehensible violence.
Both, however, were the acts of individual antagonists who gave no apparent indication of what was to follow. That the nexus was individual and unexpected indicates, in effect, that such events are largely not preventable.
Diversion of narcotics is not unknown in hospitals; hence the very strict controls and inventory management safeguards. Still, a committed thief – especially one with an apparent drug habit – will find ways to circumvent security measures.
The hospital and other clinical venues offer rich opportunities for such malfeasance. Rarely is the individual more exposed (often literally) and vulnerable then as a patient. Diagnostic tests are often conducted by lone technicians, nurses, or physicians. If the technician was siphoning off half of your medications, how would you know? The Exeter infections are likely the tip of the iceberg for this particular technician. The one place where absolute trust is bestowed has been violated. What can people and hospitals do now?
The answer is twofold – prevention and awareness. There is currently no vaccine again Hepatitis C. There are vaccines for Hepatitis A and B. Talk to your primary care physician to see if you should be immunized.
Similarly, understand if you may have been exposed to Hepatitis C or some other pathogen. Blood-to-blood contact associated with intravenous drug use, poorly sterilized medical equipment, and transfusions are typical exposures, as are poorly sterilized tattoo needles. Hep C can be cured in some 40-80% of patients with proper treatment.
Like airplane crashes and mass shootings, the diversion of narcotics by a hospital associate and the resultant infection of a still undetermined number of innocent victims are news because they are rare events. The fact that this is unusual should not, however, be construed as a license for obliviousness.
A crisis is not business as usual. A crisis is business as unusual.
For more information on Firestorm – your Crisis Coach™ for Crisis Management, Critical Decision Support, Crisis Communications, Crisis Public Relations, and Consequence Management contact us at (800) 321-2219.
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