‘Lapse in protocol’ at hospital potentially exposes patients to diseases
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation citizen John Wagnon said he must undergo periodic testing for HIV and hepatitis C after what CN officials called a “brief lapse in protocol” during a tooth extraction in January at W.W. Hastings Hospital potentially exposed him to infection.
“I just went in for my dental surgery and thought everything was fine,” Wagnon, of Grove, said. “Then five, six months later I get a call saying I got to get tested because there was a lapse in procedure. There was a possibility I might have been exposed to hepatitis C, HIV...”
Wagnon said CN Health Services, which operates Hastings Hospital, called him on June 4 asking him to come in for blood tests, nearly five months after his procedure.
“I asked what exactly happened and she said, ‘I don’t know. They haven’t told me. They just said you need to get a hold of him to tell him to come in and get tested,’” he said. “The only information I was given is they said the time or date could have been wrong whenever they sterilized all the tools or maintenance didn’t change out an air filter in the operating room when they were supposed to.”
CN officials released a statement in response to the incident: “There was a brief lapse in protocol at W.W. Hastings Hospital earlier this year. There are no indications patient health care was compromised, but out of an overabundance of caution, some patients were asked to return for testing. Test results from every patient thus far have shown no harmful exposure, and have reinforced our belief that patient health is not at risk. Cherokee Nation Health Services is the largest tribally operated health care system in the United States, seeing more than one million patient visits per year with many accreditations focusing on continuous quality improvement, including many involving integrity and continuity of care. Our doctors, nurses and other health care professionals provide diligent, compassionate care during those one million annual patient visits, and we will continue to put patient health, safety and peace of mind first.”
CN Communications officials said they were meeting with Health Services officials on June 8 to discuss what information could be released but declined to comment about the time period the protocol lapse occurred and possible number of patients affected.
Wagnon, a husband and father to two daughters, said his tests came back negative but that he would need to return in three months for more testing.
“My wife is a registered nurse. I’ve worked in the medical field. I know one test isn’t just going to rule everything out right away,” he said. “I could have had it this past couple of months and somehow transferred it to my daughters or my wife and now I’ve put their life in jeopardy.”
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, weakens the immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There’s no cure for HIV, though it can be controlled in some cases.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that causes acute and chronic liver infection. It’s contracted after coming into contact with the blood of an infected person, most often by sharing contaminated needles and other equipment used in injections, according to the CDC.
Wagnon said he understands the gravity of a possible diagnosis after working for Willow Crest Hospital/Moccasin Bend Ranch in Miami, Oklahoma.
“We had patients that had hepatitis C, and we had to watch for, if we had to place them in a hold, them spitting on us and proper procedure to clean up blood and everything if there was an accident,” he said. “Taking all these precautions all these years not to get it and everything, and it’s going for same-day surgery... Nothing I could have done about it.”
Wagnon added that he isn’t “mad” and doesn’t plan to file a lawsuit. He described himself as a “proud” CN citizen, though he’s still looking for answers and an apology.
“I just want somebody from the hospital to call me and say, ‘hey man, we messed up. Here’s what exactly happened and here’s what we did to fix it.’ That’s all I’m wanting,” he said. “I just don’t want them telling me this whole broad range of things that could have happened. I want to know exactly what happened. I can’t get the answers from the hospital. I’ve tried calling everybody and nobody knows anything.”