State finds unsanitary practices at center that may have exposed patients to HIV

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A new state report describes unsanitary practices at a Bergen County surgical center that may have exposed thousands of patients to HIV and hepatitis.

According to the state report released Friday, some employees at the Health Plus Surgery Center in Saddle Brook weren't using proper procedures. It says they failed to wash their hands, reused IV bags and did not properly sanitize tools and trays before they were used for medical procedures.

The report also says state investigators saw a stretcher with a wet, red stain that sat without being disinfected, and supposedly sterilized surgical implements were covered with rust-colored stains.

The surgical center has sent out letters warning almost 4,000 patients that they might have been exposed to HIV and hepatitis.

The state Department of Health is recommending that the center's patients get tested.

Health Plus says it has made changes, including firing two workers who had been responsible for cleaning and disinfecting medical instruments.

"We regret this situation deeply, we understand the concern and the frustration and we're doing the best we can to get through this," says Mark Manigan, an attorney for Health Plus. "I think part of the investigation revealed that, by and large, the lapses that occurred were attributable to a handful of people who have been removed."

But some patients who were treated at the center now face uncertainty. Attorney Sanford Rubenstein represents a 37-year-old woman from Rochelle Park who went to Health Plus after she'd been in a car crash. She doesn't yet know if she was infected with a disease there.

"It's a person's worst nightmare, to have to not only fear the risk of hepatitis or AIDS, through no fault of their own, but also to have to wait an extended period of time for the results of the test," Rubenstein says.

Another patient has filed a lawsuit accusing Health Plus of being negligent and reckless.

Nearly 200 preliminary tests have come back so far. One was positive for hepatitis, but Health Plus says that person may have gotten the disease before being treated there.

MORE COVERAGE: More than 3,000 patients possibly exposed to HIV, hepatitis


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