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Hepatitis Scare In Colorado Not Over Yet

Nov 2, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

The hepatitis scandal that originated in Colorado is not yet over. The Denver Post reports that hundreds of patients remain untested for the dangerous liver disease that was potentially spread due to scrub tech Kristen Diane Parker’s shoddy practices and drug addiction.

Hepatitis C is spread by contact with infected body fluids, especially blood. The disease attacks the liver, and can lead to cirrhosis or cancer of the liver. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C and the incurable disease can be fatal. Hepatitis C is considered the leading cause of liver transplants.

The Denver Post said that Rose Medical Center is still trying to track down about 375 patients who have yet to be tested. Of these, some patients have refused testing or have received private testing and are not sharing results; the Center does not have accurate or current telephone numbers for about 100 patients. After Parker left Rose she worked at Audubon Surgery Center of Colorado Springs; 57 patients from that facility have not yet been reached, said the Denver Post. Both centers are facing at least one lawsuit each as a result of the debacle, said the Denver Post.

Parker, 26, is infected with hepatitis C and recently agreed to a plea agreement on charges stemming from her alleged theft of Fentanyl syringes and was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. Parker allegedly stole the syringes for her own use, replacing them with saline after injecting herself and potentially infecting others with the disease.

Parker was indicted on July 23 on 42 counts by a federal grand jury: 21 counts of product tampering and 21 counts of obtaining a controlled substance by deceit, reported the Denver Post previously; charges only related to Parker’s alleged activities at Rose, one of several facilities in which Parker worked. Parker was also charged with three criminal counts connected to stealing Fentanyl, the Denver Post noted previously.

The Denver Post reported that more charges could be made and that, if convicted, Parker—who was jailed without bond—could have faced life in prison. The original counts were later reduced because prosecutors were looking to focus on the cases that were “easiest to prove,” said the Denver Post earlier. Parker pleaded not guilty to the indictment of 42 counts but acknowledged guilt on 10 counts, said the Associated Press (AP) earlier. The plea enables Parker to avoid a potential life sentence, noted BizJournals previously.

Fentanyl is a narcotic pain medication used for surgical patients and, as a result of swapping saline for the surgical pain medication, patients who were supposed to receive Fentanyl, clearly were not administered their prescribed medication, noted BizJournals in an earlier piece.

Of the Rose patients tested—some 4,158—15 patients were infected with hepatitis C from Parker, said the Denver Post, citing genetic tests. The Colorado Hospital Association has since implemented a task force, said the Denver Post, in order to look into so-called hospital "drug diversion," which is a term that related to drug theft that stems from staff, patients, or others with access to the hospital. The Association is also looking into hiring and drug policies at hospitals and is also reviewing state and federal regulations and for ways in which to enforce patient safety, said the Denver Post.

Rose is working on installing “drug-dispensing machines,” said the Denver Post, and is posting them in operating rooms; the Center is also conducting training on understanding drug theft and has geared it to managers and employees.

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