As most of you are aware, during the last week of September YKHC notified 191 customers that the YKHC Bethel Dental Clinic used clean but unsterile equipment on up to 13 dental customers during the week of September 13-21. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the risk of infection from cleaned but unsterile equipment is very low. We initiated calls to 191 customers and followed that with written letters informing each of what happened and recommended next steps. We also performed a number of follow up calls to some customers that wanted more information. Only after the initial telephone calls were placed to the 191 customers did we also notify KYUK since YKHC wanted to personally inform affected dental customers first. KYUK was then notified in an effort to be transparent about the problem, reach some customers we had difficulty contacting and notify the public of what we were doing to keep it from happening in the future.
Once the problem was detected, YKHC immediately implemented further safeguards to improve the dental sterilization process. YKHC coordinated our response with the Centers for Disease Control and the State of Alaska’s Department of Epidemiology. I also directed administration to begin reviewing all sterilization procedures hospital wide with the assistance of an expert in infection control procedures. YKHC is also in the process of conducting a detailed investigation to determine exactly what happened and how it can be prevented in the future.
Like you, I am very disappointed with the care we rendered to the affected 191 customers. As health care professionals, we have two goals that are the foundation to everything we do: 1. Do not hurt the patient; and 2. Try to help the patient. In this instance, and despite our best intentions, YKHC did not fully live up to those goals. On behalf of YKHC, I apologize.
After traveling to all 50 villages in our service area with YKHC facilities and meeting with many customers, staff and tribal councils, I heard loud and clear that change was needed across the company. Whether it was improving access to health care, quality or customer satisfaction, many of you said YKHC needed to improve. I agree. This incident in our Bethel Dental Clinic further supports that call for change.
Over the last year and one-half, we began several new initiatives to begin addressing your concerns. We are investing in the Paul John Calricaraq Project to renovate and build a new, larger hospital with more providers and staff housing. We are hiring more providers to fill our vacant positions. We are designing a new model of integrated care that focuses on you and your needs. We are just beginning to implement LEAN, a process used to improve reliability and reduce errors. And, finally, we are strengthening YKHC’s finances to pay for these new and needed initiatives.
YKHC will continue to keep you informed on these and other improvement initiatives in our monthly Messenger, website and other forms of media.
Clearly more work is needed. As we learn more from our detailed investigation we will continue to implement whatever changes are necessary to ensure we protect our customers. It is our goal to begin to rebuild your trust in YKHC as your health care provider. We realize trust is earned … not just given.
Our staff is committed to earn your trust one day at a time.
YKHC President & CEO