Podiatry Clinic Exposes Patients From Winnebago and Omaha Tribes To HIV, Hepatitis

Aug 3, 2017

At least 35 people at the podiatry clinic of the Indian Health Service hospital in Winnebago, Neb., have possibly been exposed to Hepatitis and HIV. An instrument at the IHS clinic, which is near Sioux City, may not have been properly sterilized between patients. 

IHS is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that provides healthcare to American Indians and Native Alaskans. The Winnebago clinic serves members from the Omaha and Winnebago Tribes of Nebraska who live in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. 

This possible exposure took place between April 17 and June 2. An emailed statement from an IHS spokeswoman says the risk is "small" and that the agency does not know of any infections.

"We understand the seriousness of this situation, and the Indian Health Service has since taken a series of immediate steps to improve the practices in the Omaha Winnebago Hospital’s Podiatry Clinic," writes IHS Public Affairs Director Jennifer Buschick. "In addition to notifying patients, we assembled a team of experts in quality management, environmental health, and public health."

"Winnebago tribal officials are extremely concerned and distressed due to the lack of communication and urgency in this matter by IHS officials," says Frank White, the Winnebago Tribe 's chairman, in a press release. "This incident compounds the existing distrust with IHS and the ongoing and apparent lack of attention to correct the serious deficiencies including procuring qualified, professional staff." 

According the release, the provider who caused the possible exposure has been terminated. Calls to Chairman White and Sarah Rowland, the acting CEO of the Omaha Tribe's Carl T. Curtis Heath Education Center, were also not returned.  

In her press release Rowland stresses, "The podiatrist contracted through the Cart T. Curtis Heath Education Center is in no way affiliated with the Omaha/Winnebago Hospital or its contracting agency; AB Staffing Solutions."

According to White, the provider was employed through AB Staffing. 

In an emailed statement Martha Sharan, a media relations specialist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the CDC is in contact with the facility. "CDC is working closely with the Indian Health Service and the Omaha Winnebago Hospital’s Podiatry Clinic. A CDC team visited the clinic and is supporting the facility in its patient safety efforts.”

In 2015 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services's stopped reimbursing the Winnebago hospital for Medicare after a report found several non-compliance issues that created an "IMMEDIATE JEOPARDY situation that exposed all patients of this hospital with the likelihood of serious harm, injury, or death." 

This post has been updated.