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Spokane plastic surgery patients may have been infected

More than 400 patients of a Spokane surgery center are being advised by the state Health Department to get blood tests because of unsafe practices involving medicine and syringes at the center between 2006 and last April.

The department said Tuesday it is trying to contact 415 patients of the Aesthetic Plastic Surgical Center after an inspection in April revealed the center’s surgical technologist was reusing syringes and possibly vials of medicine that should only be used one time for a single patient.

“We believe the risk is low,” said Tim Church, a Health Department spokesman. But patients who had surgery at the center from 2006 through April 18 should be tested by their physician for HIV and hepatitis B and C.

The surgical center disputed the Health Department’s findings as inaccurate and based on a misunderstanding of an interview with an employee. The center’s chief physician, Jeffrey W. Karp, is reviewing options about how to respond, according to spokesman Todd Zeidler.

“I can say emphatically, no patient has ever been exposed to a needle or syringe used on another patient,” Karp said through Zeidler. The surgery center used “the approved medical standard of practice,” Zeidler said.

The center performs “day surgeries,” and patients aren’t required to remain overnight.

The Health Department said the staff member was using a new hypodermic needle for each injection, but standards by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent infection call for disposing of the syringe and the vial after a single use, even if medicine remains and is being used for the same patient, Church said. Reusing syringes could taint the medicine with fluids from the patient who received the first injection.

The center stopped the improper practices on April 18, as soon as the department brought it to Karp’s attention, Church said.

“Dr. Karp recognized it as a practice that should not have happened,” he said.

The facility received a “statement of deficiencies,” which listed problems that needed to be corrected, but was allowed to remain open with its new procedures. “We fully believe the problem has been corrected,” Church said.

Karp has been working with the department to “clarify their clear misunderstanding and inaccurate evaluation of his clinic’s practices,” Zeidler said, yet the agency has repeatedly made false claims about the center’s practices.

The department received a list of patient names from the center and compared it to the state registry for hepatitis and HIV. It found one patient who was diagnosed with hepatitis after having surgery at the center, Church said. There’s no information that directly ties that patient’s infection to the center, he said.

If patients are infected, they should begin treatment recommended by their physician. They aren’t at risk of spreading any of those diseases through casual contact.

The department delayed any public notification of the problem while discussing how patients would be contacted, Church said. The department believes the surgical center would be the most appropriate entity to notify patients, but it refused, so the agency is sending letters to the patients, he said.

It does not have contact information for all patients, and some may have moved or changed phone numbers since having their surgery.

More information is available at the department’s website, www.doh.wa.gov.

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