A local dentist clinic may have put its patients at risk for HIV and other diseases.
Last Friday and Monday, a total of 61 patients were treated at the Community Dental Clinic in Morrisville.
“We had double checks that failed in this case,” says Kevin Kelley, CEO of Community Health Centers of Lamoille Valley.
By Tuesday, the clinic started notifying patients that they may have been exposed to HIV or Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C.
“We apologize for it and we’re sorry that it did happen,” says Kelley.
On Tuesday, Kelley says the clinic discovered that 12 packages of instruments used on those 61 patients were clean, but not properly sterilized.
“So what we did on Tuesday was start reaching out to those patients to notify them that we would pay for the testing for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV,” said Kelley.
Kelley says it comes down to pure human error.
He said the packages did not have tags inside, which indicate the instruments were in fact sterilized, or heated to a specific temperature to kill off microbes.
“If it’s a clean, dry surface, those viruses aren’t going to be able to stay alive,” says State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso.
She says those 61 patients are at very low risk of infection.
Kelso says the unsanitized tools are not the same as simply reusing a needle where there’s blood to blood contact.
“That’s very different than the type of situation here where an instrument might have touched gum tissue or blood and then have been cleaned and then touched someone else’s blood tissue or blood for example,” said Kelso.
The clinic also checked the records of more than 45 patients who came in prior to Friday. Records showed none of them were positive for any of the diseases.
“We’re very confident out of those 61 patients that this risk is very very low, but we want to make sure that for the patients’ safety that they have the testing done,” said Kelley.
As of Thursday afternoon, there were five patients the clinic had not been able to make voice contact with.
Kelley is reminding those patients about the option of free testing and says after any human error you learn to adjust.
“We’re going to go back and take a look at putting in a triple check and quadruple checks to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Kelley.
The clinic also covered the cost of Friday and Monday’s patient visits.
The Department of Health says it notifies the public of health events depending on the circumstances and level of risk to the public.