The wrong person was quarantined in a suspected tuberculosis case at Kelowna General Hospital, claims the B.C. Nurses Union. However, Interior Health says its investigation turned up no such incident.
A man who tested positive for the infectious lung disease was admitted to Kelowna General Hospital early this month for an unrelated ailment. His test results were mixed up at the lab and another patient was placed in isolation for several days, said Laurie Munday, the union's Okanagan chair.
The mistake meant the man who tested positive for tuberculosis was allowed to wander the ward and mingle with others. He was not an active case and posed no risk of exposing others to the disease. Still, nurses are concerned about the incident.
"We got lucky here," Munday said. "The whole mix-up . . . could have been disastrous because TB is very much out there. We want to make sure people are protected - not only nurses but the public.
In this case we dodged a bullet."
Munday spoke directly to an infection-control nurse who confirmed the error.
Staff isolated the wrong patient in a separate room as a precaution because they believed he might be contagious, she said.
They lifted the isolation about Jan. 7 when they realized the mistake and identified the right patient. By then, they'd determined he was not an exposure risk to others, Munday said.
Interior Health says the allegation is wrong. Administrators consulted infection-control staff and employees in the communicable-disease unit who know nothing about such a case, said spokesperson Lannea Parfitt.
"The information is incorrect," she said. "It's all anecdotal. We don't have patients' names.
"There are no cases that match the details."
Munday says the nurse she spoke to is trustworthy and stands by her account: there was an error but the public's health was not threatened.
Staff are forbidden to disclose a patient's identity to the press as part of Interior Health's code of conduct. An employee who told The Daily Courier about the mix-up requested anonymity and didn't give any names.
The health authority permits staff to make public comments as long as they follow the "standards of conduct expected in an employer-employee relationship," said Parfitt.
That may be so, Munday said, but nurses feel intimidated about speaking to the media because they could be disciplined or fired. Public-health nurses upset that IH closed outreach clinics to prevent sexually transmitted infections two years ago got into trouble for holding a press conference in Kelowna.
"Those nurses were disciplined and all they were doing was standing up for public health care," Munday said. "We are under a gag order . . . (Nurses) are anonymous for a reason. They know through evidence and previous experience what will happen to them."