Maine county jail staff given flu shots by mistake

Inadvertently given influenza shots Tuesday instead of being tested for tuberculosis

By Dennis Hoey
Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND, Maine — More than three dozen corrections officers who work at the Cumberland County Jail in Portland were inadvertently given influenza shots Tuesday instead of being tested for tuberculosis.

The incident is being investigated by the medical provider that made the mistake.

Corizon Health of Nashville, Tennessee, issued a statement Thursday, apologizing for the error and promising to ensure it never happens again.

“It involved two nurses who did not follow proper medical administration protocol. These actions affected 41 correctional officers, who were supposed to receive TB tests, but instead received flu inoculations,” Corizon Health spokeswoman Courtney Eller said. “All officers have been notified, as well as jail officials.”

Eller said Corizon Health plans to re-educate all personnel on proper procedures for injections. In addition, the company has sent a team to the jail to monitor those who received the shots. The Corizon team will consist of a senior physician and a senior nurse administrator.

“Although this medical incident is unlikely to result in harm to any individuals involved, Corizon Health is offering followup clinical visits to all officers involved,” Levin Jones, Corizon Health’s Vice President of Operations, told Sheriff Kevin Joyce in an email Wednesday night.

Joyce said he is not aware of any employees having an adverse reaction to the flu shots. Attempts to reach a spokesman for the corrections officer’s union were unsuccessful Thursday night.

Cumberland County has a contract with Corizon Health to provide health care services to inmates and to handle some minor health care procedures for jail employees. Workers at the jail are tested annually for TB and also receive hepatitis shots.

The TB skin test is done by injecting a small amount of fluid (called tuberculin) into the skin of the lower arm. A person who receives the test must return within 48 to 72 hours to be examined for a reaction that would indicate the presence of tuberculosis, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Joyce said two nurses from Corizon Health on Tuesday went to a refrigerator where medications are stored and grabbed a bottle they thought contained liquid for TB skin tests. It turned out it was a bottle of flu vaccine. Most flu vaccinations are administered to a person’s upper arm.

The federal CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get a flu shot once a year – ideally in October, but no later than January. The CDC warns that some people, especially those with egg allergies, should not get flu shots. Side effects from a flu shot may include soreness, redness of the skin, swelling, a low grade fever and aches. Joyce said that the nurses eventually realized their mistake and alerted the jail administration.

“The officers are upset and they should be,” Joyce said Thursday night. “A shot in the arm is an invasive procedure.”

The sheriff said Corizon Health asked corrections employees to fill out paperwork for workers’ compensation should they suffer any health issues.

Joyce said the county has contracted with Corizon Health – formerly known as Corrections Medical Services – since 2006 and has not had any incidents as serious as this one.

“We pay $3 million a year to have this service and this could have been a tragic situation,” Joyce said.

Once Corizon’s investigation is complete, Joyce will review the report to decide if the county should take any punitive action against the company.

“We want to find out why this happened and what is going to be fixed to make sure it never happens again,” Joyce said.

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