60 Minutes Investigates Medical Gear Sold During Ebola Crisis

Monday, May 2, 2016

The following is a script from “Strike-through” which aired on May 1, 2016. Anderson Cooper is the correspondent. Andy Court and Sarah Fitzpatrick, producers.

During the most recent outbreak of the Ebola virus, more than 500 health care workers died of the disease, and something called Personal Protective Equipment became essential to preventing the deaths of even more. We’re talking about gowns, gloves, masks and other gear designed to block the transmission of deadly bacteria and viruses. They’re used every day in hospitals to protect doctors, nurses, and patients. But Ebola was so lethal, it raised the stakes enormously. If the protective equipment fails, infectious bodily fluids can get through — a problem known as “strike-through.” At the height of the Ebola outbreak, we received a tip that a major American manufacturer had knowingly provided defective protective equipment to health care workers in the U.S. and abroad. It’s a serious accusation that’s never been publicly examined — until tonight.

If there’s one thing that became evident during the Ebola outbreak of 2014, it’s that Personal Protective Equipment, properly used, could mean the difference between life and death. You probably remember the tragic images from West Africa, and the workers in biohazard suits trying to help without getting infected themselves.

[Nurses in Liberia praying: May you help us to be a blessing to our patients…]

Certain types of gowns were also used during the outbreak. The nurses at this hospital in Liberia used gowns and full-body suits to protect themselves after two of their top doctors died of the disease.

Every day in the U.S., doctors and nurses rely on some of the same gowns the Centers for Disease Control recommended for Ebola. One of them is the MICROCOOL surgical gown, made by Halyard Health, which sells about 13 million gowns a year worldwide, including a quarter of the U.S. market. The MICROCOOL gown is supposed to provide the highest level of protection available against blood-borne bacteria and viruses. Its label says it meets a rigorous industry standard known as AAMI Level 4 which means it’s impermeable, so that blood containing viruses like hepatitis and HIV won’t get on surgeon’s skin during an operation. There’s just one problem.

Anderson Cooper: What was wrong with the Level 4 gowns?

Bernard Vezeau: They would leak. They would leak. When we pressure tested them, especially in the seams.

Bernard Vezeau was the global strategic marketing director for MICROCOOL and other products from 2012 to early 2015. He worked for Halyard Health, which was part of the Kimberly-Clark corporation until November 2014. When two nurses at a Dallas hospital became infected after caring for a patient with Ebola, Vezeau says he was relieved the nurses hadn’t been using MICROCOOL gowns, but he was concerned by the way the company went into high gear to sell the product.

Source: CBS News (link opens in a new window)

Health Care