Department of Corrections fined over prison TB outbreak

At least 17 were infected in the largest outbreak for Washington in 20 years.

The Washington Department of Corrections was fined by the Department of Labor and Industries for failing to follow safety rules to prevent the spread of a tuberculosis outbreak.

DOC was docked $84,400 in response to the outbreak, Washington’s largest TB outbreak in two decades, according to a DOL&I news release.

“The Department of Corrections is very concerned with citations issued by the Department of Labor and Industries resulting from their inspection of Stafford Creek Corrections Center (in Aberdeen) that began on March 10, 2022,” read a statement issued by the DOC. “We will work with L&I to address these violations.”

The outbreak began in early spring of 2022 and led to at least 17 active TB cases at SCCC, The Daily World previously reported. SCCC, which opened in 2000, is rated to hold a maximum of 1,936 male inmates, according to the DOC site.

“Thus far in 2022, 175 new cases of TB have been reported in Washington. Washington’s tuberculosis cases are on the rise,” read a statement from the DOH. “Widespread disruptions in public health and health care services and missed TB diagnoses due to similarities in symptoms between COVID-19 and TB are thought to have contributed to TB cases rising both locally and globally.”

DOL&I opened an investigation into the outbreak following complaints, and announced in April that conditions had led to the largest TB outbreak in 20 years, according to a DOL&I news release.

“DOC faced an unprecedented situation this spring as result of both the SCCC tuberculosis outbreak and the surge of COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant,” read the DOC statement. “Although this situation was unprecedented, DOC is also taking steps to ensure we are better prepared to prevent reoccurrence.”

TB is caused by a bacterium that is spread through the air, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bacteria, when it settles in the lungs and through, can be infections. Not everyone infected with TB bacteria gets sick, according to the CDC.

Latent infections, where the bacteria is present but does not make the carrier sick, can occur in many cases. One of the major findings during the DOL&I investigation was that employees at SCCC were not wearing their masks correctly.

“L&I inspectors found workers at the Stafford Creek facility had not received initial or annual fit testing for the N-95 respirators designed to protect them from infection,” read the DOL&I statement. “Regular fit testing ensures that respirators fit tightly and correctly, so they work as intended.”

The DOC signaled its intent to prevent further outbreaks and more closely meet established standards, the department said in its statement.

“These steps will include enlisting the assistance of safety professionals outside of DOC to ensure our preparations meet L&I standards,” read the DOC statement. “DOC is committed to providing a safe environment for the people that work, volunteer, or are incarcerated at SCCC.”

DOL&I recommended a number of corrective actions to prevent further issues, including making sure users are cleared to wear the respirators, conducting fit testing, and observing and giving feedback to make sure users are wearing the respirators correctly, according to the statement.

The active outbreak at SCCC was treated according to best practices, according to the DOH statement.

“Due to the nature of the mycobacteria, it can take many years to contain a large outbreak of TB,” read the DOH statement. “The DOC has been following guidance to identify all persons exposed to TB disease, test these individuals for infection, and provide preventative treatment if clinically indicated.”

DOC has 15 working days from Friday, Sept. 9, to appeal the fine, according to the news release.