New Hampshire Hospital Faces Numerous Lawsuits For Hepatitis C Outbreak
July 6, 2012

New Hampshire Hospital Faces Numerous Lawsuits For Hepatitis C Outbreak

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

New Hampshire´s Exeter Hospital is facing at least a dozen a lawsuits, with five new cases filed this week, after close to 60 patients had contracted hepatitis C while undergoing treatment at the hospital´s cardiac catheterization lab.

The hospital announced Monday (July 2) that 27 people so far had contracted the disease while under their care. However, close to 60 former patients have filed suit against Exeter as of the beginning of July, of which 47 have already signed on to a class-action lawsuit. Twelve others have filed individual lawsuits.

Cases of hep-C were first reported in May, and state health officials the following month said the outbreak was most likely the result of drug diversion -- misuse of prescription drugs for non-medical purposes -- by a hospital employee.

Drug diversion has become a major problem among health care workers, who may use narcotics prescribed for patients and then pass on diseases through contaminated syringes. State officials are still investigating whether the employee was the source of the outbreak.

Drug diversion has led to hepatitis outbreaks in at least three hospitals across the country since 2001, according to information gleaned by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Hepatitis C causes inflammation of the liver and can lead to chronic infection. CDC data has shown that 13 healthcare-associated hep-C outbreaks occurred between 2008 and 2011. More than a hundred people were infected during those outbreaks. Two of those cases involved drug diversion: one in 2009 in Colorado and another in 2010 in Florida.

Mark Abramson, a medical malpractice attorney from Abramson Brown & Dugan of Manchester, NH, is handling a total of 10 clients involved in the recent outbreak, including 4 who were named in lawsuits filed between the end of June and Monday, July 2.

Portsmouth attorney Michael Rainboth, of the firm Coughlin, Rainboth, Murphy & Lown, also announced that he has filed suit on behalf of two clients infected by the Exeter Hospital hepatitis C outbreak.

So far, 26 patient cases and one employee case have been confirmed. The only known connection between them stems from the facility´s cardiac catheterization lab.

The NH Attorney General and the US Attorney´s Office have both said they are now investigating the hospital and the situation to determine whether a criminal act has occurred.

Many of those who filed litigation have yet to be tested positive for the virus. Some of those named in the class-action suit are awaiting test results, or have already tested negative, but are still seeking damages for being caught up in the mayhem.

Exeter said that it had contacted all patients who were treated in the cardiac catheterization lab between October 2010 and May 2012, urging them to get tested for hep-C.

"Exeter Hospital remains focused on supporting all of our patients and their families who required testing during this difficult time and has now completed the blood draws or scheduled appointments for over 1,000 of the identified patients who had an invasive procedure at the Cardiac Catheterization Unit and its dedicated recovery area between October 1, 2010 and May 25, 2012. The hospital has also contacted all patients who were identified by the state as needing a one month follow-up test due to the recent timing in the Cardiac Catheterization Unit and its dedicated recovery area, and have begun scheduling appointments for these patients," it said in a news release.

The class-action lawsuit was filed last month in Rockingham County Superior Court by Concord attorney Peter McGrath.

McGrath told Foster´s Daily Democrat in a June 20 interview that 47 people had signed on to the lawsuit, including six who had tested positive for hep-C. He said approximately 20 more were awaiting test results. was provided with copies of the lawsuits brought against Exeter. The documents show that four of the new plaintiffs represented by Abramson include an 82-year-old Exeter man, a 67-year-old man from Kingston, a 52-year-old married man from Raymond, and a 46-year-old man from Newmarket, NH.

Abramson said in an email earlier this week that all ten clients under his wing have tested positive for the disease.

Kevin Callahan, president and CEO of Exeter Health Resources made a public apology for the outbreak on June 14 and discussed, along with Dr. Richard Hollister, chief of medicine, how the facility is handling the situation, which can be viewed here.