A report by the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute shows dozens of surgery centers have been cited for poor infection control and unsterilized equipment, including failure to clean the machines used for colonoscopies.
According to the analysis, 49 of the 91 surgery facilities studied did not meet federal Medicare standards. More than a quarter of the centers studied were cited for violations that put them in "immediate jeopardy," meaning patients were in danger of serious injury, harm or death.
David Mazie, a malpractice attorney who blames the poor inspections on a lack of regulation, likened the situation to the "Wild West."
"No one really knows what’s going on but the doctors that actually operate there, and it's until you have a tragedy that you find out what really happened," Mazie said.
Although a growing number of outpatient surgeries take place in free-standing clinics, fewer than half of New Jersey's surgery centers are licensed.
Most facilities escape the licensing requirement because the law provides an exemption for surgery centers that only have one operating room. Those single-room centers are rarely visited by state health inspectors.
Larry Trenk, president of the New Jersey Association of Ambulatory Surgery Centers -- the trade association representing New Jersey surgery centers -- said his group takes the report seriously and pledged to support universal licensing.
However, Trenk took issue with the report for singling out independent surgery centers over hospitals.
"I would venture to say almost every health care facility that goes through a licensure inspection has something that doesn’t meet standard," Trenk said.
Among the alarming violations detailed in the analysis of surgery center health inspections was a Fort Lee facility cited for failing to clean endoscopes and colonoscopes, the devices used to examine large intestines.