PUYALLUP, Wash. – On Monday, officials announced a potential patient health crisis at MultiCare’s Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup.
Officials there are urging thousands of people who may have been exposed to Hepatitis C in the hospital's Emergency Department between Aug. 4, 2017, and March 23, 2018, to get tested.
MultiCare says one of their own emergency room nurses was stealing medications and may have already exposed at least two patients to the disease. As a result, the hospital is now urging thousands of former patients to be tested for Hepatitis B, C and HIV because of the nurse’s alleged actions.
The hospital says the nurse who was stealing drugs was not new to the industry and has a license to work in three states. They said she passed a drug screen when she first started working in Puyallup last summer, but she has resigned over the allegations and the Puyallup Police Department is investigating.
“This nurse’s actions violated our organization’s values,” said MutliCare Good Samaritan Hospital President and COO Chris Bredeson. “Because of this, we violated the trust we have with our community.”
During a press conference on Monday, Bredeson says one of his hospital’s own nurses was stealing narcotics intended for patients and has already infected some patients with Hepatitis C.
“We’ve certainly learned that health care workers are not immune from the opioid crisis,” said Bredeson.
It all began last year when two patients who were previously treated in the emergency room returned and tested positive for Hepatitis C. More tests later showed one of the nurses there also tested positive for the virus – and it turns out they discovered the same nurse was stealing medications. But officials admit they still don’t know if she used the same needles on herself as she did on her own patients.
“That’s the issue,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Bachman. “There’s been no other explanation that’s come forward.”
The hospital has mailed notifications to more than 2,500 other patients who were in the emergency room at the same time as the nurse. MultiCare says it will pay for testing and treatment for patients and their family members if the disease has spread.
“We’ve identified about 2,600 patients who received injections of narcotics, antihistamines or sedatives in the emergency room when this employee was on duty,” said Bredeson.
MultiCare says 95% of patients who visited the Puyallup hospital’s emergency room in the past 7-8 months don’t have anything to worry about, but the other 5% are at risk of infection and many who could have the disease don’t always show symptoms.
“We accept full responsibility for this situation and have thoroughly examined processes to see where we can improve to prevent this from ever happening again,” added Bredeson.
The local health department says Hepatitis C is usually transmitted via reused needles but it can also be spread from sexual activity and sharing toothbrushes or razors.
Hospital officials stress they believe only a small portion of the 2,600 patients notified may have become infected.