WASHIGTON – State Health Secretary Nelson Sabatini said Thursday that Maryland General Hospital took too long to notify people that HIV and hepatitis-C tests done at the hospital over a 14-month period could have yielded false results.
“I don’t think they acted in a timely manner. I think they should have done it (notify people) as soon as they knew they had some problems” in January, Sabatini said.
But a spokesman said the hospital waited until Wednesday to announce the problem because it did not want to alarm patients who may not have been affected.
“It serves no purpose, really, to put out information: ‘To anybody who has had an HIV or hepatitis test between the months of June 2002 and August 2003, come on back and be retested.’ That can become very inflammatory,” said Lee Kennedy, the spokesman.
“We wanted to whittle it down to the people we knew fell into these possible inaccurate-test-results category,” he said.
Sabatini said the state health department notified the Baltimore hospital in January that there was a problem with its test results after a former employee complained about testing procedures.
But the hospital did not issue a public statement on the potential problem until this week, when the state released a preliminary report outlining its findings.
Kennedy said the hospital processes about 550,000 lab tests per year, for all ailments. On Wednesday, it announced that it had identified 400 individuals who may have been given wrong results for their HIV and hepatitis-C tests.
“We have been going through all those past results during the 14-month period to get to those 400 people,” Kennedy said.
The hospital already knows that one person who has tested positive for HIV was given a negative result. But Kennedy said the hospital is “pretty darn confident” about the others.
“Even though the quality-control measures were not followed and there may have been poor training on part of some of our staff, we’re still pretty darn confident, at this point, that we’re going to be able to show that most of those 400 original results were accurate results,” Kennedy said.
He said that while the hospital still draws blood for HIV and hepatitis-C tests, it has been sending the samples off-site for testing since August.
The hospital has identified two workers responsible for the processing errors that may have tainted the 400 tests, Kennedy said. One of them is still employed Maryland General, while the other has left for reasons the hospital will not disclose. But Kennedy said the hospital has “absolutely” ruled out malicious intent.
Maryland General this week began mailing letters to notify the 400 people in question that they may have been given bad test results, and it will set up a hotline by Monday for people to call for more information, Kennedy said. On Friday, the hospital plans to give the state its plan to improve its testing procedures.
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