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Donor Breast Milk Processing Source of Geisinger NICU Infection

GEISINGER MEDICAL CENTER — The source of the infection that led to the death of three infants in Geisinger Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care ...

GEISINGER MEDICAL CENTER -- The source of the infection that led to the death of three infants in Geisinger Medical Center's neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) has been identified.

According to a release from Geisinger, investigators confirmed the source of the pseudomonas bacteria exposure came from the process the hospital was using to prepare donor breast milk.

Eight babies were infected and three of the children died from the infection earlier this year.

Geisinger's infection control team traced the bacteria to the equipment used in measuring donor breast milk for premature infants. Since September 30, the hospital has been using single-use equipment to measure and administer donor breast milk.  There have been no new cases of infants becoming ill from the waterborne bacteria in the NICU since making this change, Geisinger said in their release.

Officials say at the time, there was no written policy for cleaning equipment and have since changed to single-use equipment for the process.

"In the pharmacy, there was a cylinder with very small measurements and the milk would be drawn up into that cylinder," said Dr. Rosemary Leeming, Geisinger chief medical officer.

The cylinder and the brush to clean it are washed, air dried, and kept in the hospital's pharmacy. It is the process Geisinger used for many years, according to the chief medical officer.

"We've never had a problem with it. We've never had a problem like this in our NICU before," Dr. Leeming said.

On September 30, the day baby Abel Cepeda died in the NICU at Geisinger Medical Center, the hospital changed its procedure for measuring donor breast milk.

"I'm sure something could have been done sooner, but I would say that we did as much as we could as quickly as we could have."

One month ago, officials at Geisinger announced the deaths of three infants who died in the NICU. In total, eight babies tested positive for the bacterial infection. Two are still being treated.

"They continue to improve. They remain in the intensive care unit and they are continuing to receive treatment," Dr. Leeming said.

Attorney Matt Casey represents two of the families whose babies died. He tells Newswatch 16 there are more questions than answers, and says in a statement:

"We already know there was both a conscious decision as early as August to conceal the existence of a deadly infection trend, and a related, conscious decision to admit premature babies to that NICU despite this knowledge.

Geisinger is continuing to divert mothers delivering at less than 32 weeks and babies born prematurely at less than 32 weeks to different hospitals until the Department of Health determines an appropriate time to resume normal operations.

A hotline has been established for any community members who may have questions regarding this announcement. The hotline numbers are 570-214-9087 and 570-214-9088.