El Rio Community Health Center is contacting 56 patients because of a dental sterilization error.
The error occurred more than a month ago over three days between March 23 and 25 at the health center’s location at 839 W. Congress.
There are three steps to sterilizing equipment and the third step was not taken for six pieces of equipment that were used during that time frame, said Dr. Douglas Spegman, chief clinical officer at El Rio.
The risks officials are concerned about are three blood-borne infections — hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.
Spegman said patient notification began Saturday after officials spent several weeks identifying who was affected.
The risk of contamination is low, Spegman stressed. The affected equipment included five handheld instruments — not the sharp instruments that attach to them. The sixth piece of affected equipment was a tooth polisher.
Affected patients are being notified by phone and certified mail. A follow-up appointment and appropriate testing is being offered and scheduled for each patient. And an investigation of the incident has occurred with corrective actions immediately put in place, Spegman said.
He said that in his 20 years at El Rio this is the first time such an error has occurred.
“We are committed to providing the highest quality care to our patients and to notifying them of any mishap even if we believe it poses little or no risk,” El Rio dental director Dr. Gregory LaChance said.
“Based on our review of the processing procedure and the scientific literature, El Rio Community Health Center believes that the risk of contamination is very low.”
The cleaning of instruments used in dental visits is a multi-stage process that includes both manual and machine cleaning of the instruments and incorporates antibacterial solutions and hot water, officials said,
The final step is the ‘Statim sterilizer,’ where instruments are placed in a sealed packets to be heat sterilized. The final step did not take place for 10 pieces of dental equipment, six of which were used, officials said.
“El Rio Community Health Center regrets that this event occurred and is taking immediate steps to assure this problem does not occur again,” Spegman said.
“El Rio Community Health Center apologizes for this mistake and remains committed to full transparency in issues of patient safety even in cases like this, where likelihood of contamination is low.”
All the affected patients are eligible for free screenings over several months. They will be screened for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.
Contact health reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or follow her on Twitter: @stephanieinnes