Ariz. inmates may have been exposed to pathogens

Posted: Updated:
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX (AP) -- As many as 24 inmates at a state prison west of Phoenix could have been exposed to blood-borne pathogens after they were improperly injected by a nurse for the company that provides health care services at Arizona's prisons, officials said Wednesday.

The health care company and state officials have provided few details on how the violation occurred or the type of pathogens to which the prisoners might have been exposed.

"It was an exposure of blood-borne pathogens due to improper use of an insulin vial on a number of patients," said Clarisse Tsang, hepatitis prevention coordinator for the state Department of Health Services.

Blood-borne pathogens, viruses that can be transmitted through blood or other bodily fluids, include Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.

The health care provider, Brentwood, Tenn.-based Corizon Health Inc., said in a statement that the violation occurred Sunday evening in three of the seven units at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis in Buckeye. The company publicly disclosed the violation in a written statement Wednesday.

The nurse who violated the protocol has been suspended as Corizon investigates the violation and provides medical care for inmates who might have been exposed, the company said.

Corizon spokeswoman Susan Morgenstern declined to provide details on how the violation occurred.

Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Doug Nick declined to provide further details, saying it was a medical issue that's being handled by Corizon.

Corrections Director Charles Ryan said in a statement that the agency expects Corizon to address any errors made in patient care.

"Corizon responded to this incident immediately and has assured the department that it will conduct a full investigation of this matter to ensure any potentially affected inmates are treated," Ryan said.

There was a similar scare at the same prison in August 2012 when inmates were given medication with a potentially contaminated needle.

A nurse had contaminated an insulin vial while injecting insulin into an inmate who had Hepatitis C. The nurse later used the contaminated vial to give insulin to other inmates, according to state prison records.

None of the inmates in question contracted any disease as a result of the exposure, Nick said.

The 2012 incident involved a nurse who was working on behalf of Pittsburgh-based Wexford Health Sources Inc. State prison officials severed its ties with Wexford and then hired Corizon to handle health services at prisons in early 2013.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.