Geisinger: Breast milk preparation source of deadly bacterial outbreak

By Roger DuPuis - [email protected]
The former Geisinger offices on Public Square, Wilkes-Barre, are seen in 2018. Geisinger Medical Center in Danville on Friday announced the cause of an infection that affected eight infants, leading to three deaths. Times Leader file photo The former Geisinger offices on Public Square, Wilkes-Barre, are seen in 2018. Geisinger Medical Center in Danville on Friday announced the cause of an infection that affected eight infants, leading to three deaths. - Times Leader file photo

DANVILLE — The process used to prepare donor breast milk has been cited as the cause of a bacterial outbreak that affected eight infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) Geisinger Medical Center, leading to three deaths, the hospital announced Friday.

The process has since been changed, a statement by Geisinger Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Edward Hartle added.

Hotline numbers have been established for any community members who may have questions regarding this announcement, the hospital said: 570-214-9087 and 570-214-9088.

News of the deaths made headlines around the country when released last month, and has already resulted in litigation.

Statement in full

Hartle’s statement read as follows:

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.

Using DNA testing, in collaboration with the PA Department of Health, our infection control team has traced the bacteria to the equipment used in measuring donor breast milk, which helps premature infants with their nutritional needs. Since September 30, we have changed this process, and have been using single-use equipment to measure and administer donor breast milk.

We have had no new cases of infants becoming ill from pseudomonas in the NICU since making this change. Pseudomonas bacteria is present throughout the environment, and only presents a health risk in extremely fragile patients.

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.

We would like to extend our sincere apologies to the families who have been affected by this incident. We know that the public holds us to the highest standards, and we will continue to strive to live up to those expectations as we have throughout our history, constantly improving on what we do and how we do it.

It is important to emphasize that the donor breast milk at Geisinger is safe and we are certain the milk itself was not the cause of the exposure.

Additionally, mothers should have no concerns about the safety of their own breast milk for their babies. Breast milk is the best food for all infants, including premature infants. Geisinger Medical Center will remain on diversion for 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.”

Statement from attorney

Matt Casey, an attorney from the Philadelphia-based Ross Feller Casey who is representing the parents of two of the infants who passed, issued a statement in response. His statement appears as follows:

“Conspicuously absent from Geisinger’s statement is any detail about when its officials first learned of a potential problem with the process it was using to prepare donor breast milk. We already know there was both a conscious decision as early as August to conceal the existence of a deadly infection trend, and a related, conscious decision to admit premature babies to that NICU despite this knowledge. As a result, two babies whose parents I represent are dead.

If Geisinger’s commitment to do all it can for these families is sincere, it will make full and complete disclosure of all it knows and when it knew it. This statement falls far short of that.”

The former Geisinger offices on Public Square, Wilkes-Barre, are seen in 2018. Geisinger Medical Center in Danville on Friday announced the cause of an infection that affected eight infants, leading to three deaths.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/web1_Geisinger1-1.jpgThe former Geisinger offices on Public Square, Wilkes-Barre, are seen in 2018. Geisinger Medical Center in Danville on Friday announced the cause of an infection that affected eight infants, leading to three deaths. Times Leader file photo

By Roger DuPuis

[email protected]