Inquiries Into Reuse of AIDS Needle at Mercy Near an End


County and state authorities are wrapping up separate investigations into medical practices at Mercy Hospital, where a 23-year-old San Diego woman received an injection from a syringe used previously on a patient with AIDS, authorities said Wednesday.

Frank Bold, senior health physicist for the San Diego County Department of Health Services, said he has interviewed executives at Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest and next week will complete interviews with the two technicians most closely connected to the case.

The medical aide who administered the injection--to a patient who had entered the hospital complaining of back pain--is no longer employed by Mercy, said spokeswoman Laura Avallone.

“Right now, we’re continuing to cooperate with the state Department of Health Services and have received no official notification about anything,” Avallone said. “They’re continuing their ongoing investigation, as is the County Department of Health Services.


“I can’t predict what will happen, and I don’t want to speculate. I’ll just say we’re cooperating with the state. We’ve been told that our response to the patient and to the state has been very positive and very upfront, and we’re continuing along that path.”

Ernie Trujillo, San Diego manager for the state Department of Health Services, said he has concluded interviews with Mercy Hospital personnel and will soon file a report with the state office. Trujillo, whose inquiry pertains only to licensing, has said the worst that could happen would be a review that would cause Mercy’s certification to be re-evaluated on federal and state levels.

Bold’s report also is intended primarily for state hospital licensing authorities. Bold said his inquiry will be forwarded to the Radiologic Health Branch of the state Department of Health Services. The patient involved had received a bone scan, which required the injection of a radioisotope dye, Bold said, meaning that the aspects of the case “pertaining to nuclear medicine also will be reviewed.”

Hospital officials have admitted that the syringe used by the technician had previously been used on a patient who suffered from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS.

Hospital president Dick Keyser said last month, however, that the medical risk to the patient was “limited.” Although it is true that she received an injection, Keyser said, the needle was inserted, not directly into the skin, but through a tube attached to her body.

Keyser admitted that the hospital made a mistake and said the needle--like any “used” needle--should have been disposed of immediately. Keyser has declined to say how the mistake was discovered.

Harvey Levine, the attorney representing the patient--whose name has not been released--was unavailable for comment Wednesday. But Levine said he plans to file suit against Mercy, after the requisite 90-day waiting period involved in medical malpractice actions. The incident occurred Sept. 25.

In earlier interviews, Levine said the woman entered the hospital with an “insignificant lower-back injury” she incurred at work. He said a worker’s compensation doctor had ordered a bone scan, which led to the injection of radioisotope dye. He said the woman was informed of the hospital’s “screw-up” 36 hours later, at 1:15 a.m., after being awakened by a phone call from administrators at Mercy.


“She was then told she had been injected with a syringe used previously on a patient known to be HIV-positive, and that the same syringe, instead of being disposed of by the attending technician, was then used on her,” Levine said. “They refused to explain how or why such a mistake occurred.”

Medical authorities say it can’t be known at least for several months whether the woman has been infected.