In the days leading up to and following the holidays, a knock at the door from someone wearing a USPS uniform usually means a surprise has arrived and is wrapped with paper and a bow. For hundreds of patients of the Saddle Brook HealthPlus Surgery Center, however, the carrier brought a surprise of the worst kind.
The repeated failure to follow sterilization and sanitation procedures at the facility has put numerous patients at risk of having inadvertently contracted HIV and/or hepatitis from a combination of unsafe sanitary conditions and surgical devices that may have been improperly sterilized between uses. Rather than contacting the patients directly to discuss the failure and address their concerns, the facility chose to notify them of the issue by certified letters delivered in the days prior to and just after Christmas.
A 41-year old woman describes having a panic attack after she received her letter on December 26th advising her to be tested for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. The violations took place last year from January 1 through September 7. That was when the facility was finally shut down by the state Health Department after it responded to a complaint.
A subsequent inspection of the facility found a bloodstained stretcher in use, rusty surgical instruments, and trays of surgical instruments that were slated for use that hadn’t yet dried from the previous procedure. It took three weeks for the facility to re-open and the health department to be satisfied that enough corrective action had been taken.
That corrective action is of little consequence to the hundreds of people now waiting to hear whether their lives have been forever changed by someone else’s negligence. Thousands of people passed through the surgery center’s doors during the period in question and while initial reports have come back on 186 patients so far showing “no acute infection,” there is still a long way to go toward determining the full extent of the exposure.
Even if no infections are discovered as a result of the center’s failure to keep its patients safe, there is no way to describe the horror these people have endured as a result of opening their letters and waiting for test results. As an EMT with 31 years of experience describes it, he’s shaken to his core. “I’m very nervous,” he says. “It’s very stressful. I’m scared about what could happen.” He still has not been contacted by the doctor who performed his procedure at the center.
“The way this was handled is absurd,” says another patient. “People deserve to be treated better than this.” The absurdity, however, doesn’t end with the situation or the way it was handled. Records show that the Saddle Brook facility is owned by a multimillionaire real estate magnate named Yan Moshe. Among Moshe’s other properties are another northern New Jersey surgery center with its own list of health and safety violations as well as Hudson Regional Hospital – formerly known as Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center – even though Moshe has no background in hospital management.
HealthPlus patients were advised to go to Hudson Regional Hospital to acquire their blood tests, effectively being told to pay Moshe twice – first to have a procedure under unsafe and unsanitary conditions and then to find out whether that procedure infected them with a condition that could change, or even end, their lives.