OGDEN, Utah (ABC4 News) – A warning coming from the Utah Department of Health and McKay-Dee Hospital after concerns that an employee may have exposed close to 5,000 patients to Hepatitis C.
4,800 patients received a letter from the hospital urging them to get tested for the virus. One of the patients is a 17-year-old man who had been in the hospital twice during the time Elet Nielson was found to be diverting Dilaudid and Morphine meant for disposal for her use.
“I was just in shock,” he said. “Like am I gonna die from this or something,” he said.
This teenager is not only left wondering about his health, but it also has his mother asking questions about how this could have happened.
“It’s just really scary to be in this position, but hopefully, we’ll know by Monday,” she said.
It was the hospital’s, drug monitoring system that first alerted them to a problem. In November 2014, an employee with Hepatitis C was found to be diverting medications. That employee was identified, questioned, and terminated by the hospital.
“The system worked like it should’ve. It picked up the behavior that it’s looking for and McKay-Dee acted fast to remedy the situation,” said Utah Department of Health spokesperson Tom Hudachko.
There are three types of Hepatitis: A, B, and C. Underneath each type are several genotypes. Under Hepatitis C, there are six. The most common in the United States are genotypes 1a and 1b, accounting for about 80 percent of cases.
In September 2015, McKay-Dee received information about a patient having the genotype 2b. Raising concerns for the hospital because the employee who had been terminated a year prior also had the same strain. Because this genotype is rare, it only accounts for about 10 percent of Hepatitis cases; health officials believe the patient and the employee are linked.
“With the cases associated with McKay-Dee Hospital, these are the types 2b, which is more rare, only about 10 percent or so of the cases in the U.S. are types 2b. So, that’s why we feel comfortable being able to say the 2 cases are linked to one another,” says Hudachko.
The investigation into Nielson’s wrong doing began in November 2014 and after the hospital conducted an internal audit and confronted Nielson about the diversion, the the hospital then notified police.
“The suspect had come forward to her employer. The employer had brought the information to us, she was ultimately charged with several counts of possession of a controlled substance and theft,” said Ogden Police Lt. Danielle Croyle.
Nielson plead guilty to the charges in May, and according to the Utah Division of occupational and Professional Licensing, her license was revoked and her status as a registered nurse terminated.
The hospital joined with the Department of Health to collect a list of patients. Close to 5,000 who may have been exposed from June 2013 to November 2014.
In response to the circumstances, McKay-Dee released the following statement:
“McKay-Dee Hospital has been working with the Utah Department of Health to investigate a recent Hepatitis C infection of a patient who received treatment in the Emergency Department at the hospital. Through this investigation, McKay-Dee Hospital and the Utah Department of Health have learned that some of the patients treated in the McKay-Dee Hospital Emergency Department between June 2013 and November 2014, may have been exposed to Hepatitis C genotype 2b. For those that might be at risk, McKay-Dee Hospital has notified each patient by mail. We have also notified physicians that some of their patients may receive this letter. Most patients receiving care in the Emergency Department during that time period are not at risk for having contracted Hepatitis C.
While the chance of contracting Hepatitis C is low, the hospital is providing a free blood test to those notified. McKay-Dee Hospital is very committed to offering effective, compassionate and safe care to our patients and continues to work with the Utah Department of Health on specifics to understand all aspects of this situation.”
Letters were sent out to those patients with instructions on where to go to receive a free blood test to rule out the possibility of exposure.
“It’s important for people to realize how Hepatitis C is transmitted from person-to-person, and Hepatitis C is only transmitted from person-to-person through contact with infected blood.
Hudachko says the virus is not new. About 3.5 million people in the United States are living with Hepatitis.
Symptoms from Hepatitis include abdominal cramps, nausea, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and/or eyes), and a fever. He mentions that 70-80 percent of all acute patients never experience symptoms, and those who do, don’t see symptoms until 6-7 weeks after exposure.
In chronic patients, they may not even see symptoms for 25 years after exposure. Which is why health officials are encouraging those people who received a letter to take advantage of the free testing.
If you have any questions, you can contact the McKay-Dee Hospital hotline at 801-387-8580.