A hospital is facing both a hospital negligence lawsuit and a criminal investigation since the discovery of a hepatitis-c outbreak. At least twenty people have been diagnosed with the same strain of the virus, which causes severe liver damage. A local public health director said that unsafe syringe use could be to blame in these cases.
The medical malpractice lawsuit is being brought as a class action, with a 49-year-old heart disease patient as the lead plaintiff. The man was being treated in the hospital for heart problems and discovered last week that he was positive for hepatitis C. His attorney told reporters that the lawsuit is intended to help protect other patients from the same kind of harm.
The lawsuit says that since he found out about the infection, the man has suffered from severe emotional distress.
A spokesperson for the hospital recently appeared on a local news program and apologized to patients, saying that if the hospital was indeed responsible, they would pay the costs.
While health departments aren't required to report these types of outbreaks to the Centers for Disease Control, some notify the agency anyways. In the past four years, 13 outbreaks have been reported, many of which were traced to unsafe injection practices at outpatient facilities.
Several of these cases have resulted in criminal charges for someone involved, including one case in which a hospital employee was stealing clean syringes and replacing them with used ones that were later used on surgical patients.
This type of conduct is quite shocking, since patients rely on hospital staff to be trustworthy and diligent in sanitation practices. Pursing criminal charges against these individuals is a good way to discourage particular actions, but it's also important that the hospital be held responsible for a failure of oversight and for maintaining staff that cannot be trusted with patient safety.
Source: Associated Press, "Investigates hepatitis C cases; suit filed," Holly Ramer, June 14, 2012.