By Timothy J. Finan

Several weeks ago, Olean General Hospital sent letters to patients who may have received insulin pen injections during their hospitalizations. It included a recommendation, as a precautionary measure, to be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Many patients have accessed the free counseling and testing services provided by the hospital. The recommendation for testing was made out of an abundance of caution even though the hospital believes the risk of infection is extremely small and very remote.

Within the past week, attorneys have placed billboards and sponsored television commercials and newspaper ads throughout the region regarding this issue. Many of our patients have told us that this recent advertising has been a source of significant concern and worry. Accordingly, the hospital believes it is important that our patients and the community know:

• As a result of a review of clinical literature and after discussion with New York State Health Department officials, we have found no current evidence of a single documented case of a blood-borne infection anywhere in the country (hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV) transmitted via an insulin pen.

• We believe the chance of infection from the use of insulin pens as utilized at Olean General Hospital is almost zero. Insulin pen needles were never re-used at Olean General because special safety needles were utilized that cannot be used for more than a single injection.

Approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population is infected with hepatitis C and many do not know it because the virus can lie dormant for years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone born between 1945 and 1965 be tested for hepatitis C because it is often without symptoms and as a result, many individuals are infected and do not know it.

There are many risk factors associated with acquiring these infections. They include receipt of blood transfusions or organs prior to 1992, when blood was not screened for hepatitis C; current or past injection of drugs; piercings and tattoos; hemodialysis; unprotected sex and exposure to blood of infected persons.

Olean General Hospital decided to contact patients about the use of insulin pens despite our awareness that the potential for infection is extremely remote. We have provided patients the opportunity for free testing at the hospital or at a location of their choice. We believe that openness with respect to this issue is extremely important. Our decision to contact patients was done with the guidance of the New York State Department of Health and with our knowledge that it would potentially result in significant adverse publicity. Regardless, Olean General Hospital’s commitment is, and has always been, to do what is best for those we serve.

Timothy J. Finan is president and CEO of Olean General Hospital.