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Court Case Begins in Hepatitis C Outbreak Suit

The Seacoast Online reported this week on the latest developments in a high-profile hepatitis C outbreak case. The attorneys in the case met this week to discuss how the matter would proceed. This is the earliest stages of the dispute, and a plan for the collection of evidence, meetings regarding possible settlements, and other issues will be timelined out.

The Case
The problem first broke last May when a hospital suspended work in its catheterization lab following troubling news about patients developing acute Hepatitis C infections. Hepatitis is a blood infection that can cause serious damage to patients, particularly in the liver. All told, by the time this outbreak subsided at least 32 patients had contracted the infection.

The drama behind the story was heightened when information came to light about the cause. Apparently an employee was the cause of the outbreak via a “drug diversion.” The thirty-three year old employee first began working at the facility in a temporary capacity as a traveling technician. He was eventually hired full time by hospital. While working as a cardiovascular technician, the man allegedly stole anesthetic fentanyl–a powerful drug used during patient procedures. At those times the man would inject himself with the drug, fill the syringe with saline solution, and then put the syringe back on the table to be used. Obviously this chain of events was incredibly risky, exposing patients to infected medical tools.

It was later learned that the negligent employee had chronic problems in this regard. Over an eight year period he worked at eleven different hospitals in various states. Following the mass outbreak, past records were checked at the previous hospitals where the man worked. It was discovered that at least six other patients in two different states also contracted the same strain of Hepatitis C as the technician.

Investigations into the matter also revealed that many of the man’s co-workers noticed troubling signs in the past. For example, he was called out for having a red face, bloodshot eyes, and foam at the corners of his mouth while on duty. Also, there was evidence that the man had drug problems, as his employment records indicated several incidents where he was caught under the influence while on the job.

Legal Developments
Obviously the affected patients and their families filed medical malpractice suits against the involved parties. Those cases have advanced through the system. This week’s meeting was a structuring conference to figure out how the cases will be combined and handled. This is the usual course of procedure for outbreaks like this one where many different people were harmed and various legal actions were brought.

It is critical that medical facilities and individual employees act reasonably at all times to root out problems like this one. It is well established that some employees can have drug problems of their own, using the medical setting to feed their habit. Facility administrators must act reasonably to prevent these possible risks. When they fail to do so, there must be legal accountability and redress for the harmed patients.

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