After discovering that more than 700 infants might have been exposed to tuberculosis at an El Paso hospital, state and federal officials say the facility has been placed on track to lose crucial funding if it does not take corrective action.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services could terminate Providence Memorial Hospital’s Medicare funding after an investigation by the Department of State Health Services last week "cited the hospital for deficiencies that represent immediate jeopardy to patient health and safety," said department spokeswoman Carrie Williams. The hospital has until Oct. 11 to fix the problems or it risks losing federal money that's key to keeping it open.
“This is one of the largest TB exposure investigations we’ve ever been involved in, and it involves infants, so it is particularly sensitive,” Williams said in an email on Monday. “Babies are more likely than older children and adults to develop life-threatening forms of TB.”
A report on the investigation will not be made publicly available until later this week, federal officials said.
Providence and El Paso’s Department of Public Health announced Friday that an employee of the hospital came to work with an active case of TB some time between September 2013 and August 2014, where he or she worked with infants in the nursery and in the post-partum unit.
In addition to the 706 babies, 43 Providence employees also may have been exposed to the disease, according to the city public health department.
The Department of State Health Services has sent two tuberculosis specialists to help screen for the disease and may send medicine and testing supplies, if needed. El Paso’s Department of Public Health began doing skin tests Monday on people who may have been exposed, a spokesman for the department said.
A spokeswoman for the hospital said the employee infected with tuberculosis stopped working shortly before receiving his or her diagnosis, and that no other hospital employee has tested positive for active tuberculosis.
“We have taken actions that are designed to prevent a similar incident from occurring, and we are working collaboratively with health authorities to demonstrate the effectiveness of these actions so that our patients may continue to have confidence in Providence Memorial Hospital,” said spokeswoman Audrey Garcia.
Tuberculosis is an airborne disease that, while contagious, generally requires close contact for an extended period of time to spread, according to the El Paso public health department.
"Once in the body, the bacteria usually lay dormant for months or years before they begin to grow and cause a case of active TB," said a Friday press release from the department. "That is why it is so important to identify people who may have been exposed, screen them, and provide treatment."
The families of patients who may have been exposed are being contacted by phone and mail, according to the department.