Patients plan to sue Northwest Hospital, after possible HIV/hepatitis exposure

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SEATTLE - More patients in Washington are coming forward, after learning they might have been exposed to hepatitis or HIV by a former surgery technician who is now facing charges in Colorado. They’re planning to file a lawsuit, saying Northwest Hospital in Seattle should have protected them.

“I lead a clean, good life,” says Melinda Booker. “I never thought I’d have to be tested for anything like this.”

But next week, Booker is going to Northwest Hospital to be tested for hepatitis and HIV. She’s been told she may have been exposed to the diseases when she went to the hospital to be treated for kidney stones back in 2012.

“I’m scared. I’m real nervous. I’m scared for me, scared for my family, I don’t know what to expect.”

Northwest Hospital has notified more than 1300 patients about possible exposure, after finding out about accusations against former surgery tech Rocky Allen. A Colorado hospital says Allen injected syringes of narcotics into himself, then put the used needles back into rotation for surgery patients.

“There are so many different emotions that come through,” says Carina Sauerzopf. “You’re angry, you’re confused. Why would anybody do this?”

Sauerzopf says she tested positive for hepatitis B after getting treatment at Northwest Hospital several years ago. The diagnosis didn’t make sense at the time. Now she thinks Allen may be to blame.

She and Booker have both consulted with attorney James Avery, who filed a lawsuit against the Colorado hospital that Allen worked at yesterday. Avery says he is planning to file a suit against Northwest, partly because the hospital is refusing to answer questions about why they terminated Allen in 2012.

“I think Northwest Hospital ought to have given some information to their patients and this is one of the reasons why we are having to aggressively pursue litigation because the hospitals are not giving information to patients,” says Avery.

Booker says she hopes the legal action will force hospitals to strengthen their employee screening processes and protect patients better.

“You go to get better, you don’t expect that someone there is going to make you sick.”

Booker is hopeful that her tests will come back and she’ll find out she’s not infected. But she says just the waiting and worrying is really hard.

Allen also worked at Lakewood Surgery Center. Hundreds of patients there have also been warned that they may want to get tested.

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