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PG Co. hospital investigating bacteria that forced NICU to close

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Posted at 11:30 PM, Aug 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-11 07:25:09-04

The NICU at Prince George's County Hospital takes care of the tiniest and most fragile of patients.  This week, it was temporarily shut down because of a virus.  Nine babies were moved out of "an abundance of caution."

Hospital representatives say the transfer of the babies happened after two deaths occurred in the NICU and after three babies and the water pipe that services the NICU tested positive for Pseudomonas.

The hospital maintains that the babies who tested positive for the Pseudomonas bacteria have not shown symptoms from that infection. But it's a concern for those with babies compromised immune systems.

"I think what it does is make you start thinking a whole bunch of possibilities of things that could happen," said hospital visitor Eunice Long.

Charles Gilman is a medical malpractice attorney.  He says, the parents have rights.

"If it was the hospital that was negligent the family can go ahead and sue the hospital," he said. "It's a medical malpractice case and there are caps on economic damages that apply."

Hospital leaders stress that the deaths have not been linked to the bacteria and the shutdown of the unit was strictly precautionary. Wednesday, the clean up began, but disinfection efforts aren't easy.

Pseudonomas and other bacteria or pathogens are usually associated with the biofilm on the inside of pipes, said C.O.G. Water quality expert, Lisa Ragain.

Officials say virus hasn't been found elsewhere. Still, no one's taking risks and legal experts say there could be significant fall out from this.

"Whether they're premature babies in the NICU or older people in a different unit, your job as a hospital is to keep them safe, so you cannot use the excuse that they would've died anyway or that they had a weakened immune system that's why people are in the hospital," Gilman said.

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Here's part of the statement the hospital put out Wednesday about what's being done to correct the situation.

  • PGHC is working with public health authorities, epidemiologists and infections disease experts about the source and mapping of the bacteria
  • State and local officials are working to identify the root cause and future exposures
  • There's also ongoing water sampling and evaluations of the filtration system

The hospital says it's focused on the investigation and providing ongoing care to the other patients.

Gilman says parents and family should seek legal counsel if they have questions.

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