When the news broke on Christmas Eve that nearly 4,000 patients at HIV and Hepatitis B and C had been exposed at a Bergen County Operations Center, there was little information about what went wrong.
A Friday afternoon report at the HealthPlus Surgery Center at Saddle Brook shows what has been done: employees have not washed their hands regularly; I.V. Bags and tubes were used in several patients; powerful opioids were handled recklessly; and the facility relied on a nearly 10-year infection control plan.
The New Jersey Department of Health inspected the HealthPlus Surgery Center on September 7 after receiving a complaint about the facility and immediately closed it for three weeks. Earlier this month, HealthPlus sent letters to 3778 patients who underwent surgery at the facility between January 1
Mark Manigan, a lawyer, represented HealthPlus. In an interview with NJ Advance Media on Friday, the Operations Center said a former employee filed the complaint. He added that two employees had been dismissed from the institution, but refused to identify them.
Manigan also declined to investigate the facility's current medical director, who said "threats" had been made against HealthPlus staff.
For-Profit Surgical centers such as HealthPlus have been a source of controversial debate as they have gained popularity lately. Critics claim that the urge for profit in certain institutions leads to unsafe conditions. A March issue of USA Today published in March detailed, widespread problems found nationwide in profit-driven surgical centers, including New Jersey.
"Rusty stains" and a bloody leaf
One of the most alarming results in the State Report: The operating rooms in the facility were not properly cleaned and disinfected between procedures, increasing the risk of dangerous diseases. Surgical aids were sometimes detected shortly before use with "brown, rust-like patches" according to the report.
In one case, a state inspector observed a stretcher in a hallway with a bloodstained sheet that was not properly disinfected even after the inspector had alerted the staff to the problem.
Most worryingly, a HealthPlus employee told a state inspector, "Due to the high volume of procedures, surgical trays were not always allowed to dry in sterilizers before use."  What was the volume of HealthPlus? 3,788 patients were enrolled at HealthPlus between January 1 and September 7 this year. This means on average more than 15 interventions per day in the facility, provided the surgeons worked seven days a week without a vacation lock.
Infection control was not the only problem with HealthPlus. The Sept. 7 report outlines the potential for theft of opioids by HealthPlus employees. Several examples are listed in the report, where large amounts of potent opioids such as fentanyl and oxycodone have disappeared.
"Someone either threw out the medication or it was stolen," Manigan said. "We believe that the problem has been solved."
The state also found that medicines that needed refrigeration were stored at room temperature.
The state noted that Healthplus' most recent infection control plan was dated in 2010 and bore the former name of the facility, the Renaissance Surgery Center, which used and directly preceded the same building as HealthPlus.
In 2013, Renaissance was blasted by the National Health Department for Poor Infection Control, employed workers who had tested positive for tuberculosis, and lack of toiletries such as soap and disposable towels at hand wash stations.
Ask Alexa for New Jersey
HealthPlus Surgery Center reopened On September 28, a day after the Ministry of Health found that it had addressed the shortcomings identified in its September 7 survey.
"We have made significant improvements to ensure the safety and health of our patients," said HealthPlus Administrator Betty McCabe in a statement sent to the media on Monday.
In addition to the dismissal of two employees, according to Manig, a new nursing director was hired. After the correction plan, the new Nursing Director is responsible for all new policies.
HealthPlus is also required by the state to conduct quarterly infection control and sterilization testing every six months.
The state health department has said that the risk of infection is low and the department is not aware of a disease due to infection prevention issues with HealthPlus. However, those affected can call between 9:00 am and 9:00 pm on the week number 1-888-507-0578. To schedule a test at the Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus or in and on and at LabCorp locations in New Jersey or New York.
Read the State's September 7 Report, the HealthPlus Correction Plan, and the State Succession Report below:
HealthPlus Complaint Survey (text)
Claude Brodesser-Akner can be reached at [email protected] . Follow him on Twitter @ClaudeBrodesser. See NJ.com Politics on Facebook