More detail given on medical breach at prison

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX (AP) -- A nurse at an Arizona prison may have contaminated insulin vials with a needle that she used to test several prisoners' blood sugar, officials said Thursday as they released more details about 24 inmates' potential exposure to hepatitis and HIV.

Corrections officials and the company that provides health care services at the state's prisons had released few details Wednesday when the medical-procedure breach at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis in Buckeye was first publicly disclosed.

The health care provider, Brentwood, Tenn.-based Corizon Health Inc., said in a statement that the nurse used the same needle Sunday to test the blood sugar of five inmates and cleaned the needle with alcohol between patients.

The nurse then cleaned the same needle again and used it to draw insulin from vials for one patient, leading to the potential contamination. She used new needles to inject other patients and threw them out after their injections were complete, the company said.

After that, she gave insulin to inmates in other units using the potentially contaminated vials. And the next morning, the nursing staff used those same vials to give insulin to inmates, the company said.

The company says there is no indication that anyone was exposed to viruses that can be transmitted through blood or other bodily fluids. It also said the nurse who committed the breach has admitted the error, was suspended and is cooperating in its investigation. The Arizona Board of Nursing also was notified.

The company didn't identify the nurse.

Ten of the 24 inmates were among a group of inmates who were involved in a similar scare at the same prison in August 2012.

"Every indication is that the incident (Sunday) is the result of the failure by one individual nurse to follow specific, standard and well-established nursing protocols when dispensing injected insulin to 24 inmates," Corrections Director Charles Ryan said in a statement.

State prison officials said changes will be made to prevent future breaches, such as making sure each patient who needs insulin has his own insulin vial, rather than using the same vial to draw insulin for multiple inmates.

The similar scare at the Lewis prison in August 2012 arose 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. Prison officials say none of the 112 inmates in question contracted any disease as a result of the exposure.

The nurse who committed the 2012 violation isn't the same nurse who was involved in Sunday's breach.

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.

Prison health care is the subject of a lawsuit by inmates who alleged Arizona's prisons don't meet the basic requirements for providing adequate care and that corrections officials failed to correct problems after they were brought to their attention.

Dan Pochoda, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, one of the groups representing the prisoners who filed the class-action lawsuit, said Sunday's breach will be a factor in the lawsuit but that it's not the worst health care problem in the prisons.

Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Doug Nick declined to comment on how Sunday's breach could factor into the lawsuit.

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