Prince George's Hospital Center transfers babies from NICU to another hospital after bacteria found

- Prince George's Hospital Center will begin the disinfecting process after three babies in its neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) tested positive for a harmful and potentially deadly bacteria.

The hospital closed down its NICU and has transferred nine babies in that unit to Children's National Medical Center in Washington D.C. after three of the current neonatal patients recently tested positive for Pseudomonas, a bacterium that can cause infections in humans.

The hospital said the positive bacteria cases have only affected patients in the NICU and were detected during routine screening of the babies.

"What we noticed was that there was a cluster of positive swabs that were above what our normal is," said Dr. Carnell Cooper, chief medical officer for Dimensions Healthcare System. "Because of that, we then began our investigation."

Dr. Cooper said they have found no association in their investigation between the recent deaths of two infants at the hospital and the bacteria.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Serious Pseudomonas infections usually occur in people in the hospital and/or with weakened immune systems. Infections of the blood, pneumonia, and infections following surgery can lead to severe illness and death in these people."

"Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a type of bacteria that is commonly encountered in the health care setting," said Dr. Kerri Thom, an infectious disease physician and associate hospital epidemiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "This bacteria can be found in patients without infection. Patients have this bacteria on their skin or gastrointestinal tract but are not sick as a result or it can cause a variety of types of infections, particularly in patients who have weakened immune systems."

The hospital is working with the University of Maryland School of Medicine along with state and county officials to find the source of the bacteria.

"In most cases, there is no single source of contamination identified with Pseudomonas aeruginosa," said Dr. Thom. "However, in many cases, a water source can be implicated, and we do know Pseudomonas aeruginosa is often found in water systems."

The hospital said it has not been using water in the NICU for several days and will begin the disinfection process of the plumbing that leads into the NICU on Wednesday. The hospital has also contracted a water company to obtain and analyze water samples in multiple areas of the facility.

Based on the current water samples, hospital officials said there are no concerns about the water in other parts of the building. The hospital plans on reopening the NICU when treatment and water retesting is completed.

In a statement, Prince George's Hospital Center said:

Prince George’s Hospital Center (PGHC) has begun a process to transfer the 9 current patients in its neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to other hospitals due to three recent positive patient surveillance cultures for the presence of bacterium Pseudomonas.  While three current neonatal patients tested positive for the presence of the organism in the process of vigilant surveillance protocols, all are clinically asymptomatic for any active infection with the bacterium.  Pseudomonas is caused by strains of bacteria found widely in the environment; the most common type causing infections in humans is called Pseudomonas aeruginosa. 

PGHC has been in active consultation with public health authorities, epidemiologists and infectious disease experts, and is acting out of an abundance of caution in the best interest of our most vulnerable patient population.  We have been monitoring all NICU patients very closely for several days.  The positive patient culture results are limited to the NICU at this time.

The hospital is working collaboratively with public health authorities as well as epidemiology and infection control experts from the Prince George’s County Health Department, the Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, and the University of Maryland School of Medicine to identify the root cause of the Pseudomonas and to help prevent future exposures.

Our highest priority is the safety and well-being of all of our patients and their families, as well as our valued team of caregivers.  We realize that this situation is a source of concern to families, staff and the community.  All parties should be assured of our commitment to manage this transfer process and concurrent investigation as smoothly as possible, and to provide many layers of support.

We acknowledge that there are many questions and concerns about this matter, and we will work diligently to answer them thoroughly and thoughtfully.  While the investigation into the positive bacterium cultures is ongoing by qualified experts, our top immediate priority is the safe and efficient transfer of patients and providing support to our NICU families and staff.

We look forward to resuming admissions to the NICU very soon and returning it to full service for our community.

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker released a statement saying:

“I have offered Dimensions Healthcare Systems, the University of Maryland Medical System, and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene the full support and resources of the Prince George’s County Government to assist with this matter and we currently are monitoring ongoing developments.

"The precaution of moving the nine infants that were in the NICU to other hospitals while this situation is investigated and resolved is prudent.  I am confident that the healthcare professionals who are handling this matter, which I understand is fairly common in hospitals, will ensure that the health and welfare of the hospital’s patients is not compromised.

"I know that this situation is very alarming and stressful for the parents of the babies in the NICU, and my thoughts and prayers go out to them at this time. The Prince George’s County Government is committed to assisting the hospital in any way possible, if needed to protect the health and safety of all the patients, staff, and visitors to the facility.”

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission released a statement regarding Prince George's Hospital Center:

"In light of the recent story involving the presence of bacterium Pseudomonas at Prince George’s Hospital Center (PGHC), WSSC is providing its water quality sampling protocol and latest results.

"The Commission has a strict testing protocol for water which includes the collection of water samples from 90 locations across the two counties on a weekly basis.

"The nearest regular sampling location to PGHC is a few minutes away in Cheverly. A water sample was collected on August 3, 2016. The sample showed the chlorine residual to be within the required regulations. There were no coliform bacteria detected in any of the WSSC samples.

"WSSC does not test specifically for the presence of bacterium Pseudomonas but does test for total coliform.

"WSSC has reached out to the Prince George’s County Health Department to provide assistance.

"In its 98-year history, WSSC has never had a drinking water quality violation."

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