Officials at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale said earlier this week the hospital discovered that Qui Lan, 59, was reusing IV tubing and saline bags during cardiac chemical stress tests. They have sent letters to the 1,851 patients she handled between January 2004 and early September, recommending they get tested for HIV and hepatitis at the hospital's expense.
Dr. David Droller, the hospital's infectious diseases medical director, said the chances of infection are low, but it can't be ruled out.
"We cannot say the risk is zero," Droller said.
Citing privacy laws, hospital CEO James Thaw wouldn't say whether any patients have come forward with infections. He said officials were still evaluating any potential legal action against Lan.
Fort Lauderdale police spokesman Sgt. Frank Sousa said Wednesday that investigators are looking at potential charges, including criminal negligence but likely will first need to find patients who may have contracted a disease.
"Right now, we don't have any victims," Sousa said, adding that exposure alone may not constitute a crime. "In order to be a victim, you have to contract some kind of communicable disease."
A man who answered a call to a telephone number listed for Lan referred questions to her attorney.
Lan's lawyer, Allison Gilman, told The Associated Press her client has been a nurse for 37 years and had no prior disciplinary actions.
"Right now, we don't feel like she did anything wrong," Gilman said. She declined to comment on whether the hospital's allegations about repeated use of the equipment were true.
Hospital officials said the nurse was suspended on Sept. 8, and resigned the next day. Alice Taylor, the hospital's chief operating officer, said Lan did not give officials an explanation why she had been reusing the materials.
Patients who may have been exposed had come into the hospital for heart stress tests. Instead of running on a treadmill, they were given medication to raise their heart rates and increase blood flow.
Taylor said the hospital received an anonymous tip on Sept. 1 that the nurse had been seen reusing the saline bags and tubing that are meant for one-time sterile use. It's possible that if infected blood from one patient backed up into the tubing that was reused on another, a disease could have been passed on.
Officials said the facility launched an internal investigation, and within about a week, found the allegations to be true.
It then began identifying patients who were handled by Lan and may have been exposed to disease.
On Oct. 3, certified letters were sent to all potential victims.
The hospital says it has received nearly 1,500 calls to its hot line.
"We are asking all these patients, please go get tested," Thaw said.
On The Net:
Broward General Medical Center: http://www.browardhealth.org/patientnotice