Geisinger says equipment used in measuring donor breast milk to help premature infants with their nutritional needs is the source of a waterborne bacteria that infected eight infants — including three who later died — in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit.
According to a release from the hospital, using DNA testing "in collaboration with the PA Department of Health, the hospital's infection control team has traced the bacteria to the equipment."
“Geisinger has now received confirmation of the source of the pseudomonas bacteria exposure in eight premature infants; we have concluded that the exposure came from the process we were using to prepare donor breast milk," Geisinger Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Edward Hartle said in the statement.
Pseudomonas bacteria are common and often harmless but can pose a health risk in fragile patients. Hartle said the hospital changed the process for measuring and administering donated breast milk on Sept. 30. The hospital has seen no new cases of infants becoming ill since the change.
"The Department of Health (DOH) visited our Danville campus on October 18 to review our practices and cited us for not having a written policy for cleaning equipment used to measure donor breast milk to reflect the changes made on September 30. We immediately corrected the citation and drafted a new policy," Hartle said.
Matt Casey, a Philadelphia attorney who represents the families of two children who died at Geisinger following the outbreak, said the hospital’s statement “falls far short."
“The statement conspicuously fails to provide any details when Geisinger first learned of this problem and to what extent it was ongoing,” he said.
Casey said the hospital should make full disclosure. "We intend to get to the bottom of it."
Casey has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Zuleyka Rodriguez and Luis David Cepeda, the Hazle Township parents of Abel David Cepeda who died at the age of 6 days. Casey also intends to file a lawsuit on behalf of another couple whose twins were born at Geisinger during the outbreak. One child died and the other is still receiving treatment, he said.
Department of Health spokesman Nate Wardle said Friday the department has worked with the hospital "to resolve any public health concerns, and to ensure that appropriate follow-up measures occurred." Wardle also said breast milk is the "best" food for infants, including premature infants. "Proper handling and storage of breast milk is an essential step to assuring safety. This is particularly important for premature babies," he said. "Donor breast milk is considered safe and is essential for infants that need it."
Geisinger's Director of Media Relations Matthew Van Stone said as a result of the DOH's citation, "we had to take immediate corrective action, which we did at that time."
Hartle said the hospital will still divert mothers delivering at less than 32 weeks and babies born prematurely at less than 32 weeks while we consult with DOH on the appropriate time to resume normal operations.
"Geisinger is committed to doing all that we can to support the infants and families affected and ask the community to join us in keeping them in our thoughts," said Hartle.
A hotline has been established for any community members who may have questions regarding this announcement. The hotline numbers are 570-214-9087 and 570-214-9088.