Doctor discusses urology sterilization amid possible virus exposures at Atrium Health

Channel 9′s Hannah Goetz spoke with an area doctor about potential viral exposures for some Atrium Health patients.

This investigation began last week with one urology patient possibly being exposed, which quickly grew to involve dozens of patients potentially impacted.

The patients were told they needed to get tested for multiple viruses, including HIV following procedures at Atrium Health.


Goetz has spent the last week digging into the situation. She spoke with an experienced doctor Wednesday to learn what should and shouldn’t happen during the procedures in question.

Goetz got nearly 70 emails and phone calls in the past week, mostly from concerned patients who underwent procedures at Atrium Health Urology. They are worried they were exposed to HIV and hepatitis A and B.

“Should patients be very concerned with the calls that they’re getting?” Goetz asked Dr. Todd Cohen, who has been a urologist in the Charlotte area for 25 years.

“Yeah, I think they should take it very seriously,” Cohen said. “Because if they don’t and they were exposed, there’s a reason why they are notified, because they were potentially exposed. These are diseases that are harmful. Can they be controlled in many cases? Yes, in most cases. Yes, but still they’re bad diseases.”

Cohen worked for more than two decades as a urologist in Charlotte and has had specialty training in minimally invasive surgery.

He told Goetz that urology involves a lot of delicate procedures.

“We do a lot of what is called endoscopic work, which is using scopes, and the key to the scope is cleaning the scopes to make sure they’re sterilized between patients,” Cohen said. “But (cleaning) it also means not just the external surface, but internal surfaces as well.”

Cohen said many scopes have multiple internal ports. Because bodily fluid could potentially flow through these ports, sterilization between patients’ procedures is critical. He said that often takes place by either soaking in a solution or being placed in an autoclave.

“We had current logs right by the autoclave right by soaking baskets that every time an instrument came out, it was logged. So it was an ongoing process to make sure that each instrument was sterilized appropriately, and if there was any question it was resterilized. The person that oversaw this log was the clinical manager in the office, and they would check this daily at the end of the day to make sure every space was filled in.”

Atrium Health has acknowledged that cleaning and sanitization logs were not being accurately kept by a urology practice at their Kenilworth facility.

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That means that there is a chance patients could have been exposed to viruses. Therefore, they should be tested for HIV and hepatitis B and C.

The first patient Channel 9 interviewed said he was potentially exposed one year ago, and the second person who was interviewed was in May.

“Is it odd for you to notice that it would’ve possibly been a six-month gap where there was no log for these processes?” Goetz asked Cohen.

VIDEO: Dozens of patients may have been exposed to hepatitis, HIV during procedures at Atrium Health

“To have no log and to have no check on the log, yeah, I would say that’s odd,” Cohen replied. “This is something that we did daily.

I think the timing of it, six months is a long time to go unnoticed and I think that’s something that needs clear investigation and thorough investigation to make sure it never happens again. Because the number of people in a six-month period of time that could be exposed is a lot, again, if you’re looking if you’re talking about just myself doing five to 10 of these a day -- probably three or four days a week. We are talking potentially 20 to 50 patients a week, just that I am seeing.”

Many of the people who have reached out to Channel 9 said their first tests for HIV, Hepatits B and C were negative, but they have to retest in six months. They said they worry is putting their lives on hold.

“I feel bad for all those people that are living through this, right now,” Cohen said. “It’s a terrible thing. If I was the one involved, I would want to know everything I could to help protect other people in the future.”

VIDEO: Atrium Health alerts man to possible HIV exposure a year after procedure