CHEVERLY – Prince George’s Hospital Center (PGHC) is continuing to investigate the presence of potentially harmful bacteria in two of its units. 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 […]
CHEVERLY – Prince George’s Hospital Center (PGHC) is continuing to investigate the presence of potentially harmful bacteria in two of its units.
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 the bacteria in water pipes serving the NICU, and hospital officials announced Aug. 16 that the bacteria was found in an additional patient care area after further water testing was conducted.
At a press conference on Aug. 19, they provided additional details, saying the bacteria was found in four sinks in the NICU and two in an adult inpatient care unit. Those sinks were taken out of service.
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.
Neil Moore, president and chief executive officer at Dimensions, a non-profit entity formed by the county government to run its hospitals, including PGHC, said there are no concerns with water elsewhere in the facility. He said they are working with health agencies at the state, county and federal level.
“We have their reassurances that no changes are necessary to our water use practices,” Moore said.
Three babies had tested positive for Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can cause blood, lung and other infections in humans, and although those infants were “clinically unsymptomatic,” the NICU was closed and a total of nine patients were 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. The three babies testing positive were colonized by Pseudomonas, but as of Aug. 19 were not showing any symptoms of infection with the bacteria, officials said.
“Colonization does not represent infection. In those three babies’ cases, they were colonized two weeks ago so that is a very good sign that they will not develop infection,” said Dr. Anthony Harris of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
All nine infants are doing well, and none of the other six have tested positive for Pseudomonas, officials said.
With the NICU closed, the hospital is transferring 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.
While no “gap in practices” occurred regarding the babies, according to Sherry Perkins, chief operating officer and executive vice president at Dimensions and a registered nurse, the hospital is still taking steps to ease patients’ anxiety.
“We began bathing our newborns in bottled water to ease any concerns of our new mothers,” she said.
The hospital also stated it is working with an independent water testing company to disinfect and treat the pipes in the affected units. Perkins said hyperchlorination was taking place in the NICU and ICU units, and bacteria-catching filters have been placed there. The hospital is also working with the Maryland Department of the Environment, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC and Prince George’s County Health Department to develop a continuous hyperchlorination system to be used throughout the hospital going forward.
“I think that I can confidently say that when it is complete the water in this hospital will be safer than at many in the country,” Harris said.
WSSC, which supplies water to the hospital, said in a statement 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,” a statement it issued said. “In its 98-year history, WSSC has never had a drinking water quality violation.”
Perkins said the problem is most likely confined to the hospital.
“Best determination we can make from this is that it is in the pipes that lead to the NICU,” she said.
Other measures being pursued by the hospital include meetings with staff to provide information about the investigation. They are also using various technologies and methods to look at the DNA and other characteristics of the Pseudomonas organisms found at the hospital to learn more about where it may have originated. But Harris cautioned that investigations take time, and may not yield definitive results.
“These types of investigations do not give you answers immediately,” he said. “Often in these investigations no definitive answer is found.”
The NICU will remain closed until all tests have been completed and all the agencies agree it is safe to do so.
“I expect that that won’t be until the end of August or early September,” Perkins said.