CHEVERLY – Water testing in the wake of an outbreak of a potentially harmful bacteria at the Prince George’s Hospital Center (PGHC) has revealed the problem is more widespread than initially thought. On Aug. 9, PGHC closed its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) after routine nasal swabs of infants showed a cluster of positive results […]
CHEVERLY – Water testing in the wake of an outbreak of a potentially harmful bacteria at the Prince George’s Hospital Center (PGHC) has revealed the problem is more widespread than initially thought.
On Aug. 9, PGHC closed its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) after routine nasal swabs of infants showed a cluster of positive results for the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Subsequent water testing revealed the presence of that bacteria in water pipes serving the NICU, and hospital officials announced Tuesday evening that the bacteria was found in an additional patient care area after further water testing was conducted. However, they said there were no “clinical concerns” for other patients staying at PGHC, and no hospital services beyond the NICU – which remains closed- have been affected.
Three babies had tested positive for the bacteria, which can cause blood, lung and other infections in humans, and although those infants were “clinically unsymptomatic,” the NICU was closed and nine patients transferred to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., out of “an abundance of concern for safety,” according to Dr. Carnell Cooper, chief medical officer for Dimensions Healthcare System, a non-profit entity formed by the county government to run its hospitals, including PGHC.
The press release, issued Aug. 16, also said the hospital is making plans to transfer expectant mothers identified as high-risk who are currently staying inpatient at PGHC to other facilities prior to delivery. However, the NICU will still be able to stabilize any babies who are born at PGHC before transferring them.
Prior to the NICU’s closure, two infants had died, but Cooper said those deaths could not be directly linked to Pseudomonas infection.
“There have been no clear deaths associated with these infections,” Cooper said. “Patients in our NICU are critically ill patients. These are small premies (premature babies) usually, and so they often have a multitude of conditions that put them at risk for dying. But there’s been no clear cause of death.”
The hospital also stated it is working with an independent water testing company to disinfect and treat the pipes in the affected units, as well as into branch lines hospital-wide as part of a long-term plan, and that additional water filtration measures are being utilized. They said infectious disease experts are still working to trace the source of the outbreak.
“We are taking a very methodical and collaborative approach to our investigation and remediation, and will follow the science where it leads us,” said Sherry Perkins, chief operating officer and executive vice president at Dimensions. “We take our responsibility in providing quality healthcare to this community with utmost seriousness, and we will be unrelenting in pursuing the root cause, remediating any identified issues and guarding against recurrence.”
Perkins is also a registered nurse and is overseeing the hospital’s response to the outbreak.
Regulators from state and federal agencies such as the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have been on site to oversee the progress of the investigation and evaluate the facility.
Other measures being pursued by the hospital include meetings with staff to provide information about the investigation and working with “an environmental health and safety specialist” to develop a long-term plan for monitoring the water at the hospital.
Hospital-acquired infections are a growing concern at facilities across the country, and according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pseudomonas specifically is responsible for 51,000 healthcare-associated infections each year in the U.S. The bacteria is commonly found in the environment, and even on people’s skin and digestive systems, said Dr. Kerri Thom, an epidemiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who is working with PGHC.
“Infections or clusters of infections are frequently reported in the scientific literature,” she said. “In most cases there is no single source of contamination identified. However, in many cases water can be implicated.”
County officials said they are monitoring the situation closely, and County Executive Rushern Baker III said the county is ready to assist the hospital if needed.
Meanwhile, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), which supplies water to the hospital, said in a statement that it had collected a regularly-scheduled water sample from a Cheverly site “a few minutes away” from PGHC on Aug. 3, which showed no coliform bacteria and chlorine levels within regulations.
“WSSC does not test specifically for the presence of (the) bacterium Pseudomonas but does test for total coliform,” the statement said. “In its 98-year history, WSSC has never had a drinking water quality violation.”