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Health officials: We can’t name spa

Local spas faced with calls from concerned customers, but Government won't formally release name ‘unless it's in the interest of public health'

By Jonathan Bell

A storm of criticism has followed Government's refusal to name the spa linked to an outbreak of the MRSA bacteria, responsible for at least 20 infections.

In light of public uncertainty, combined with the “guilt by association” experienced by spas, The Royal Gazette has decided to name the affected business as the Tai Homespa on Laffan Street.

Health officials stress that the spa is now completely clean of the bacterium MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

However, last night a spokeswoman said Government would maintain its silence.

“As a policy, the Department of Health does not identify possible sources of infection unless it is in the interest of public health. Identifying the facility as a spa is as far as we can go at this time.

“Naming the facility at this point in the contact tracing process serves no useful purpose. And likewise, not naming the spa does not pose any further health risk whatsoever.”

Cases of MRSA infection, limited to August and September of this year, were traced to a single member of staff at the spa, which was closed for cleaning.

The employee remains off work and is undergoing treatment.

The Ministry of Health last week announced that a “point source” for the disease had been identified, but persistently declined to name the affected business.

Permanent Secretary Kevin Monkman said he could neither confirm nor deny that the MRSA had been traced to the Tai Homespa.

The lack of information led to public demands for clarity.

Yesterday Shadow Health Minister Zane DeSilva said he had been contacted by spas protesting that widespread alarm had unfairly tarnished their business.

“Some have had cancellations which will have severe effect on their business,” Mr DeSilva added.

Asked if the establishment would have been named under his watch, Mr DeSilva replied: “If I were Minister, and the cause was serious enough, and in the best interest of the public, yes, I would — after consulting with the concerned business owner.

“For the Minister to hide behind her PS on this matter is very disappointing. She should be out there doing her job. As I have said many times — the Health Ministry needs and has to have a full time Minister who is on the job during the day when most needed.”

Spa owners were yesterday inundated with calls, and The Royal Gazette fielded its share of demands to name the business.

A spa owner who did not wish to be named said her business' Facebook page had received negative comments.

“Everyone said they're staying away from spas, so with the place not being named, everyone has to wonder,” she said. “We have very high standards of hygiene — we've never had any problems, but something like this makes us all guilty by association.”

She added: “I hope nobody else has got the phone calls that I've had.”

Government's silence was “not a good idea”, she said. “People are going to find out anyway — word travels fast.”Spa owner Will Mayo of Strands was of mixed opinion, saying that naming a business could be the death knell for a small establishment.

“I do understand the public's need to know. I don't mind telling you we were scared about how this might affect business.”

Strands wasn't hit by cancellations, he added. “Unfortunately, in this industry we're all in the same boat. I was dreading this coming out.”

Gnica Walker of Orchid Spa said she'd been barraged with calls.

“From those that don't know us and don't know our high standards, it's been negative,” she said.

Offering her sympathy to the Thai Homespa, she said nonetheless that “customers would want to know”.

Mark Selley of the Bermuda Healthcare Advocacy Group sided with Government, saying: “Until we get the details it doesn't make any sense.

“If they're wrong, someone will have egg on their face. It's not necessarily true that the person named was a staff member — it could have come from a patient.

“You have to get all your ducks in a row before you come out firing. I'm very glad they've come out and said they are handling it. It could have been swept under the rug.”

Because of its immunity to germ-killing drugs, MRSA has proven troublesome in hospitals, and Bermuda is no exception, he said.

“It's been a situation here for a long time that has been poorly dealt with. It's better now than it's been. There's been an awful epidemic.

“Some patients have actually succumbed to MRSA beyond what they came in with. It comes with the territory but you've got to be mindful because of the patients with lowered immune systems.”

Calling the outbreak “a major public health concern”, concerned citizen Michael DeCosta told The Royal Gazette: “Why wouldn't it be named when peoples' health is concerned? They're protecting the business. People are not being informed — this is an outbreak around the island.”

Bermuda Health Council head Jennifer Attride-Stirling said the BHeC wasn't involved in the handling of the outbreak.

“Generally speaking, however, matters of this nature are treated in confidence unless public safety requires disclosure,” she said.

“If there isn't material risk to the public in maintaining confidentiality, it is advisable to do so.”

The Tai Home Spa on Laffan Street in Hamilton was the site of the outbreak of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) which caused painful infections to clients. The spa is now completely clean of the bacterium, but other spa owners have expressed dismay at Government's refusal to name the facility and handled a barrage of phone calls from concerned customers.

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Published October 15, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 15, 2013 at 12:13 am)

Health officials: We can’t name spa

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