How Hospitals, Nursing Homes Keep Lethal ‘Superbug’ Outbreaks Secret

Deborah J. Nelson, David Rohde, Benjamin Lesser and Ryan McNeill | Reuters Investigates | December 22, 2016

The outbreak started in January 2014. That’s when a resident of the Casa Maria nursing home here was diagnosed with Clostridium difficile, a highly contagious and potentially deadly “superbug” that plagues hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities. By the end of February, six more Casa Maria residents were suffering from the infection, characterized by fever, abdominal cramps and violent diarrhea.

Under New Mexico regulations, healthcare facilities must report a suspected outbreak of C. difficile to the state Health Department within 24 hours. But Casa Maria staff did not contact authorities until March 4, 2014, according to the Health Department report on its investigation of the outbreak, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters. By then, nine of the nursing home’s 86 residents had active infections.

Still, Casa Maria downplayed the emergency. The employee who contacted the authorities asked for information on how to handle “a few cases of C. difficile,” according to the report, but “stated it was not an outbreak.” When a Health Department staffer called Casa Maria the next day to follow up, the nursing home again denied it had an outbreak. By June, the outbreak was over. Fifteen residents had been infected, and eight were dead. The public was never informed — until now...