Dialysis Center Closes After State Citations for Poor Infection Control Practices

Health Department Notifies Patients of Possible Exposure to Hepatitis C, Other Infections

ALBANY, N.Y. (Sept. 16, 2008) – A Manhattan dialysis center has closed its doors after a New York State Department of Health investigation uncovered poor infection control practices and indicated that at least one patient has contracted hepatitis C after undergoing dialysis there. Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., today announced that the center has surrendered its operating certificate and paid a civil penalty of $300,000 to the State.

Commissioner Daines also reported that the Department of Health (DOH) has notified 657 patients of the Life Care Dialysis Center (LCDC), 221 W. 61st St., that they may have been exposed to hepatitis C and other bloodborne pathogens while treated at the center. Letters posted yesterday advised patients to get tested for hepatitis C, hepatitis B and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). There is no evidence at this time that any patient has contracted hepatitis B or HIV at the facility.

Last month, DOH performed a week-long inspection of LCDC. DOH staff observed evidence of unacceptable infection control practices, including blood on the treatment chairs and dialysis machines, lack of proper hand hygiene, and inadequate disinfection of equipment.

DOH immediately advised LCDC's operator and Medical Director, Dr. Walter Wasser, to transfer its 171 current patients. Since that time, patients have been transported under DOH supervision to alternate locations for the dialysis that they generally must undergo three times a week. Dialysis is a process that filters a patient's blood when the patient's kidneys can no longer do an adequate job. Dialysis patients are often in seriously compromised physical condition, making them more vulnerable to infection.

DOH is recommending that any patient who received care either at the center or at home through LCDC since January 2004 be tested promptly. Information packets were sent out this week to 657 LCDC patients, informing them that they may have been exposed to these viruses and describing how they can obtain free confidential testing.

Commissioner Daines said, "This sends a message to the entire health care industry that the Department will not tolerate the provision of substandard services to New Yorkers. We are trying to contact potentially exposed individuals. If you were a patient at Life Care Dialysis Center at any time after January 23, 2004, I urge you to contact your physician and arrange to get tested."

A new statute, signed into law by Governor David A. Paterson on April 23, 2008, raised the possible penalties on health violations from $2,000 per violation up to $10,000 per violation, in some cases. Dr. Daines said, "We will use this new tool, and every tool at the Department's disposal, to put an end to this kind of conduct and to assure that the State's citizens get the first-class care to which they are entitled and which is available at many fine dialysis centers in New York."

In addition, Governor Paterson signed a separate bill into law designed to improve patient safety, enhance the State's authority in medical investigations and help to prevent future infection control violations. The new law increases DOH's authority in epidemiological investigations, authorizing DOH to disclose information to the public as needed regarding public health threats that come to light, notwithstanding otherwise applicable confidentiality provisions. Further, the law authorizes DOH to direct a physician to cease any activity uncovered during a communicable disease investigation that constitutes an imminent danger to health.

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus and is spread by contact with the blood of an infected person. It is estimated that 1.6 percent of the population of New York State has been infected with hepatitis C.

DOH has established a toll-free information hotline for LCDC patients at 1-800-278-2965 that will receive calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the foreseeable future.

Copies of the letters and information provided to patients are available at: http://www.nyhealth.gov/facilities/diagnostic_and_treatment/life_care_dialysis_center/