VANCOUVER – As many as 936 patients at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center may have been exposed to Hepatitis C by a former employee, the hospital announced Tuesday.
"A joint investigation revealed that the patients might have been exposed to the virus through the actions of a former PeaceHealth Southwest employee suspected of diverting drugs for personal use," said PeaceHealth spokeswoman Michelle Halfhill.
Certified letters were mailed Monday to the patients, urging them to get tested for Hepatitis C. PeaceHealth Southwest said it will cover the cost of the tests.
Click to read the letter (PDF)
"The likelihood of infection is very low," Clark County Public Health director Alan Melnick says in the letter. "But we are taking strong action because your health and safety are our highest priorities."
Temporary patient service centers have been set up in three locations to make the testing as convenient as possible. Patients can also be tested by health care providers at another location if they prefer to do so.
The information came after weeks of investigation, including analyzing test samples, said PeaceHealth spokesman Tim Strickland. But he added that was just phase one.
"Today marks the end of the first portion of the investigation, and the beginning of the next portion," he explained.
The Clark County Public Health Department and PeaceHealth announced the investigation on Monday, May 5. They said the caregiver worked in the Vancouver hospital from May 2012 until April 2014. The person's name and job title were not released.
Background: Possible Hep C exposure at Vancouver hospital
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are no restrictions against doctors, nurses and employees with Hepatitis C working in hospitals; they just have to take the necessary precautions to keep patients and coworkers safe.
PeaceHealth and Clark County Public Health also shared the following:
People can also call the patient care support line at (360) 729-2000 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., seven days a week for more information.
KGW reporter Nina Mehlhaf contributed to this report