Gainesville hospital removes VP, gets state OK after concerns over sanitizing OR instruments

HCA North Florida Hospital removed one of its vice presidents and fired other employees nearly six weeks after nonemergency surgeries abruptly halted with concerns about sterilized operating room equipment.

Former vice president for surgical services Patty Gursky was removed while other employees connected to the Sterile Processing Department were fired, according to three employees who spoke on condition of anonymity after saying they were ordered not to discuss the matter.

Gursky, who had been promoted to vice president in October, declined to comment when reached by phone.

Three weeks after surgeries were halted, the state Agency for Health Care Administration found no deficiencies at the hospital during its visit on Feb. 6, according to a newly disclosed one-line summary of inspection records. The agency did not make the detailed reports immediately available about the inspection.

The hospital shut down surgeries amid concerns over the activities of the Sterile Processing Department, the unit in charge of cleaning and sanitizing instruments for medical procedures. It found instruments in operating rooms with blood and tissue residue from earlier surgeries, according to the surgeons and other medical staff.

Surgeries were then called off with little warning, with some moved suddenly to hospitals in Ocala or Lake City.

The hospital also began administering a “no strikes” rule, firing employees immediately for lapses involving contaminated surgical equipment, employees said.

The hospital separately announced internally the hiring of a new chief operating officer, Mark Amox, who had been CEO of a hospital in Northeast Arkansas. Amox was expected to start March 11 to replace John Gerhold, who left in early December to become CEO of an HCA Florida hospital in Sanford.

Hospital CEO C. Eric Lawson said this week the hospital was “nearing 100 percent capacity for the scheduling of elective surgeries with the goal of returning to full capacity as soon as possible.”

A hospital spokesperson published Lawson’s message and the separate announcement about the new chief operating officer on a private, internal messaging board for hospital employees, which were obtained by a reporter.

The surgery suspensions weren’t the hospital’s only recent issue. On the night of Feb. 8, just two days after the inspection by state regulators, Gainesville firefighters in full biohazard suits responded to a hazardous materials spill after four hospital employees in a second-floor operating room suffered from burning eyes and headaches.

Employees had mixed a chemical solidifier intended for use in disposing of medical waste with glycine in a trash bag that spilled, causing a noxious gas that persisted for about two hours before firefighters arrived, according to fire department records obtained under Florida’s public records law.

Firefighters shoveled the spill into buckets and tested the air until readings became normal.

The hospital is one of the largest in Florida with 510 beds and 15 operating rooms. It treats more than 50,000 patients each year and has more than 1,000 employees. It is run by HCA Florida Healthcare.

In early February, Mainstreet Daily News, a Gainesville-based newspaper, was first to report the deployment of commercial trucks in the hospital’s parking lot from a health care services vendor, Steris Instrument Management Services, to repair surgical tools and instruments. Technicians on the scene told Mainstreet they were working to repair “probably thousands” of instruments for “pock marks, scrapes” or other defects.

While Fresh Take Florida, was first to report the suspension of surgeries at the hospital in mid-January, this reporting is the outcome of a joint investigation between Mainstreet Daily News and Fresh Take Florida.

After several published stories from both agencies, HCA Florida sent executives from its corporate offices in Tallahassee to manage media inquiries and ordered no one in the hospital to talk to reporters without approval. The hospital then posted signs around its facility with a photograph of the Mainstreet Daily News reporter, Gary Nelson, a retired news anchor and reporter for CBS in Miami for 26 years who has reported on the HCA surgery story.

The signs directed employees to be on the lookout for Nelson and to contact security if they saw him on the premises. One photo from security cameras showed Nelson at the hospital on Feb. 14. He said he was there visiting a family member who had just had surgery after a three-week delay.

“I am struck by the reluctance of HCA, since this issue became known, to be transparent … with the media and the public to whom HCA has an absolute responsibility,” Nelson said.

Close to a week before the shutdown, in an email to surgical colleagues Jan. 12, the hospital’s chief medical officer, Sherrie Somers, wrote about discovering rust on multiple tools or blood and tissue residue on trays for cardiac and spinal surgeries. The email, obtained by Mainstreet, indicated the internal problems existed for up to a year before the suspension of surgeries in January. She acknowledged in the message that surgeons and employees had been assured about improvements “for 6 to 12 months.”



This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporters can be reached at jaredteitel@ufl.edu and sandovalv@freshtakeflorida.com.

Copyright 2024 WUFT 89.1. To see more, visit WUFT 89.1.


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