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Karin Lillis

Karin Lillis is managing editor of EndoNurse magazine and a contributing writer for Infection Control Today. She has more than 20 years of experience in health, news and business publishing-from community-based daily newspapers to clinical nursing and other magazines. She graduated from DeSales University with a degree in English/Communications.

Scrub Tech Gone Bad: a PR Nightmare

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A scrub tech at Audubon Surgery Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Rose Medical Center, in Denver, allegedly stole syringes of Fentanyl from work and replaced them with her own dirty syringes, filled with saline solution. At this point, 18 patients have Hepatitis C that appears to be linked to the tech’s. This tragedy has caused untold stress for patients. It has also caused embarrassment and sorrow for the staff and is at the very least a public relations nightmare.

Hopefully, your staff will never go through a situation like this. If it did, how would it handle the communication conundrum? Audubon seems to be handling it well. The center set up a Web site which provides a summary of the tragedy, practical information, and, perhaps most importantly: apologetic language. In our lawsuit-obsessed society, businesses often avoid expressing regret, since they don’t want it to look like an admission of guilt. In this case though, Audubon leaders are walking a delicate balance; they’re protecting themselves by not giving extraneous information (they’re admitting that a lot of answers are still unknown—the matter is under investigation) but they are simultaneously expressing deep sorrow.

That, in my opinion, is a good move. I remember covering a story years ago about a little boy who was run over by a train. The family members didn’t claim the train company was at fault, but they were still upset that the company never acknowledged their grief. They said it would have meant a lot to get a letter saying that the company is sorry for the family. Audubon leaders seem to understand this. They know patients are furious, and they are too. Whether Audubon is at any fault (as opposed to just one allegedly-rouge employee) will be seen down the line, but it’s still admirable that its leaders are expressing their sadness over the situation in the meantime. For example, on the Web page that launched after the incident, the facility’s leaders wrote, “It is impossible to adequately express how deeply sorry we are for what is happening and the anxiety and pain this is causing your family. This is a personal issue for all of us.”

Audubon has arranged for free confidential blood testing at an offsite lab and set up a patient-care line at (719) 571-4440. The needle-switching incidents never should have happened, but at least Audubon leaders aren’t adding insult to injury with a poor follow-up.  

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