Twelve newborn babies died at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital within a one-week period, and the hospital’s higher ups say a bacteria is to blame.
At a late Wednesday evening press conference and while tests and investigations continued to be processed, KHMH’s Director of Medical Services, Dr. Adrian Coye, revealed that the deaths were caused by a bacteria known scientifically as Enterobacter Cloacae, a strain of bacteria found in the human digestive system and in human excrement.
Coye, flanked by Chairlady of the KHMH Board, Chandra Nisbet Cansino, and the hospital’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Francis Longsworth said that a preliminary study have confirmed that there was an outbreak in the NICU, but it is not a “superbug”.
They said that they became aware of the situation last Friday and that was when they began to make adjustments and take samples for testing.
They explained that from the tests that the Belize Central Lab had conducted, only seven of the 12 deaths were caused by this “opportunistic” bacteria.
Coye said that the organism is classed as “very fastidious, very difficult to clear” and there is transmission by direct and indirect contact.
He added that it can be on any surface, including the skin, clothing, even the very hospital equipment and instruments such as stethoscopes, IV drip stands, and other surface areas.
They explained that the NICU is far outdated at 16 years old, and could be very cramped at times.
“[It’s] limited space designed for eleven, but the need of our country results in us having to accommodate sometimes 20 neonates in that space,” said Coye.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), has stepped in to assist the hospital in addressing the problem, which has been described by Dr. Longsworth as something that “can happen in some of the most sophisticated units in the world”.
The CEO also said that renovations, retrofitting and servicing of air-conditioning systems at the hospital were not likely linked to the situation.
Casino also offered an explanation as to why the matter wasn’t addressed sooner: “A blood culture takes five days to grow and there is no way around that and there is no other way of determining the sensitivity of an organism except by doing a blood culture and so, while we were waiting five days for a blood culture, babies were passing away.”
Dr. Coye says that while the hospital remains under constant threat of these types of bacteria, it has the problem under control.
Since the cluster of deaths, the hospital’s NICU has been closed, but it continues to offer maternity and neonatal care from another section of the facility until the investigations, testing and adequate measures have been put in place.
Normally, the NICU sees roughly five neonatal deaths per month.
What the public outcry has been most vociferous about is that it had to take 12 deaths in a week for someone to make it public that something was wrong.
The parents of the babies that died have given their observations and a few have stated that they intent to sue the hospital because they feel that negligence was still a factor.
While the hospital blames a bacteria as being the primary reason for the majority of deaths, Chairlady Cansino said her Board is also looking for a secondary reasons, one which might have to do with someone’s inaction. “We are awaiting reports to determine if anyone is culpable,” she said.
The news of the deaths have been abuzz in the media since last week.
A few of the aggrieved mothers, including Kelcey Young and Katricia Panting, told described the events leading to their babies’ deaths.
Their stories were relatively similar. All the babies were delivered at the KHMH, all were premature and had to be transferred to the Neonatal ICU, until their complications, which were related to premature birth, dissipated.
According to the parents, all were doing well until a couple days prior to their deaths.
When their conditions deteriorated, they reportedly turned blue, and there was some connection to blood – either the babies bled or required blood.
In all of the cases, the mothers claim they asked questions that the doctors could not answer.