The latest health scare to hit Miramichi has caused many people in the northern city to question the hospital’s safety practices.
The Horizon Health Network revealed this week that 2,497 current and former patients who underwent biopsies in the Miramichi Regional Hospital’s colposcopy clinic may be at risk of HIV and other infections because standard sterilizing procedures weren't followed over a 14-year period.
But this health issue comes five years after a public inquiry examined the work of Dr. Rajgopal Menon, a pathologist who worked at the Miramichi Regional Health Authority from 1995 until February 2007.
'I don't trust any hospital. And that's two [health scares] within five years, so I mean it is scary' — Barbara Brown, Miramichi resident
Menon was suspended following complaints about incomplete diagnoses and delayed lab results and that prompted the provincial government to ask Justice Paul Creaghan to hold a public inquiry into his work.
The sterilization questions raised in the colposcopy clinic is bringing back bad memories for Miramichi residents, such as Barbara Brown.
"It's scary, it`s bad enough you think you have cancer and then a couple of years later you find this out," Brown said on Thursday.
Brown was a patient involved in the Menon scandal and now she’s affected by the hospital's latest problem at the colposcopy clinic.
"Like it brings up everything from years ago," she said.
The problem started when the number of daily biopsies started to outnumber the forceps at the hospital. So, rather than sterilizing them, the forceps were disinfected and used again. A process that doesn't kill all pathogens.
So the hospital is offering nearly 2,497 women a blood test for HIV, hepatitis B, and C.
Dr. Gordon Dow, an infectious disease specialist, told a news conference in the city on Wednesday the risk of infection was very low.
But people in the community have questions about why it took 14 years to discover the problem.
A colposcopy is a diagnostic procedure used to closely examine a woman's cervix, vagina and vulva for signs of disease, such as cancer. It is often performed if a Pap test has come back with abnormal results.
'Occasionally things like this happen'
Health Minister Ted Flemming defended the Miramichi Hospital on Thursday and said appropriate steps are now being taken.
"Occasionally things like this happen. And when they do happen, the true test how do you react to it, what do you do about it. And what are you going to do to make sure it doesn't happen again," Flemming said.
Flemming is also reassuring all of those patients who are affected.
"They can come for this blood test and I'm confident that there isn't going to be any human carnage. That's the advice that we've been given by the experts that we've hired," he said.
The health minister said a provincewide audit of similar clinics has been done and all hospitals are sterilizing as required.
Flemming said he’s confident that people can trust the hospital despite the latest setback.
But given its recent track record that is not how everyone feels in the city.
"I don't trust any hospital. And that's two [health scares]
within five years, so I mean it is scary," Brown said.