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When microbial contamination becomes a secret

Personally, I find this article pretty disturbing: Iowa City VA patients not told about bacteria problem.  Basically, the story is, that the bacterium that causes Legionnaires disease (Legionella pneumophila) has been found in the water system at a VA hospital in Iowa.  And the managers of the hospital say “But they said they’ve been able to control the problem, and they have not seen the need to cause alarm by telling patients.”  Many of the people interviewed in the article are not thrilled with that response.  And neither am I.  One of the best ways to help combat the possibility of hospital acquired infections (in my opinion) is to be fully open about the risks and what is known about where microbes of concern are found.  We need MORE analyses and public disclosure of things like MRSA rates and presence of specific taxa in the hospitals, rather than less.

Dick Allison is reported as saying “That’s the whole problem,” he said. “When somebody lies to you once, you wonder if they’re lying to you about everything else.”  Exactly my feeling.  Why should people trust hospital administrators about anything when they seem to be keeping information from them?  Yes, it is hard to run a hospital.  And yes some people may panic if they hear about contamination.  Too bad.  Openness and disclosure trump those issues in my mind.

Now – this does not mean that one should test for such bacteria everywhere and anywhere.  And sometimes if tests reveal low levels that could be considered a “background” detection and might not need to be disclosed.  But the default should be disclosure unless one can prove that such disclosure if of no value.

Veteran's Hospital
Photo Credit: Adrianne Behning Photography; via Flickr


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