Neighborcare: Dental sterilization practices were flawed

Students may have been exposed to hepatitis and HIV, though the risk is considered low.

Neighborcare Health announced last week that approximately 1,250 students on Vashon and in Seattle may have been exposed to hepatitis and HIV. The Washington State Department of Health is investigating.

Public Health-Seattle & King County, working with the Centers for Disease Control, has determined that the possibility of students contracting either virus is low.

“There is no known exposure to these viruses, and our assessment is that the risk is low,” said James Apa, a spokesperson for King County public health. “Similar situations have not been documented to have caused such infections.”

On Vashon, 24 students were potentially affected. All students have been offered free testing for HIV and hepatitis B and C through a third party, Immediate Clinic urgent care centers, according to Neighborcare spokeswoman Mary Schilder. Neighborcare will pay for ferry rides and taxis if needed, she added.

Neighborcare, which offers dental services through its school-based clinics on the island and in Seattle, said in a statement released last week that it had discovered a deficiency in its dental sterilization procedures. Some of the dental handpieces, which hold dental instruments, were cleaned with a germicidal disinfectant, but some handpieces had not undergone autoclave/heat sterilization, which is required.

Additionally, the Neighborcare statement said the specific dates of appointments that may have been impacted were not able to be determined. Overall, the statement said students may have been impacted before March 4 of this year, but the Vashon time frame is different: between September 2017 and March 2018.

The Vashon Island School District sent out two emails about the situation last week indicating Neighborcare had contacted affected students directly.

At the Washington State Department of Health, spokesperson Julie Graham said the department learned about the situation from Neighborcare on March 26. Prior to that, a Neighborcare staff member had noticed there might be a problem and reported it to Neighborcare officials, who then contacted Public Health-Seattle & King County. Officials there directed Neighborcare to contact the state’s health department.

Graham said they are investigating to determine what caused the problems with sterilization, including whether it was a problem with one person or with the larger system.

Neighborcare officials apologized for the incident in the organization’s statement signed by Chief Operations Officer Meredith Vaughan and School-Based Health Program Manager Alison Delateur.

“We understand that this information is concerning, and we apologize for any distress this news may cause you and your school community. We take very seriously our responsibility to provide our patients and the community we serve with quality care. We are committed to meeting or exceeding all safety protocols and guidelines. We will continue to review and update our processes to help ensure that this does not happen again.”

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