Former patients are suing the largest healthcare system in Massachusetts after it was revealed they may have been exposed to hepatitis and HIV at Salem Hospital.
A class-action lawsuit against Salem Hospital, Mass General Brigham — the hospital’s parent healthcare system — and 10 un-named employees was filed accusing them of negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Mass General Brigham, which runs 16 hospitals in Massachusetts, released a statement this week saying hundreds of patients were potentially infected with HIV and hepatitis at Salem hospital over nearly two years after employees failed ‘to follow best practices’.
Patients affected say they were told medical staff was re-using needles for intravenous drips instead of throwing them away after each use and using new ones, as is standard practice.
In a statement from the healthcare system, the hospital said it was made aware that exposure could have occurred to patients undergoing endoscopic procedures like colonoscopies and gastrointestinal ultrasounds.
Nearly 450 patients at Salem Hospital in Massachusetts could have been be exposed to HIV , Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C due to improper procedures administering medication
Pictured above is Salem Hospital’s CEO Roxanne Ruppel. She became the president and chief operating officer of Salem Hospital in March this year
The hospital says the practice was immediately corrected once it was made aware.
No infections linked to the exposures have been identified and the local department of health, which conducted an on-site inspection, says the risk of infection was ‘very low.’
A spokesperson for Salem Hospital said all patients possibly exposed have been notified and 90 percent have either been tested, are scheduled to receive testing or declined free testing.
The Mass General Brigham spokesperson said patients who have not been notified do not need to be concerned.
The lawsuit, filed at Suffolk Superior Court, was submitted under the name of Melinda Cashman who lives in Amesbury, Massachusetts, The Boston Globe reported.
The suit says Ms Cashman underwent an endoscopy — a procedure where a doctor puts a tube-like instrument into the body to look inside — at Salem Hospital sometime between June 14, 2021 and April 19, 2023.
She was recently informed of the error ‘and as a result will now have to undergo testing, screening, and evaluation in an attempt to determine whether or not she was infected, a process which can take months or even years,’ the suit stated.
The suit also alleges Ms Cashman and other patients affected have suffered ‘permanent injuries, including additional testing and extreme anxiety and emotional distress and decreased quality of life.’
Cashman also asserts in the case, filed by Keches Law Group, the hospital and its employees failed ‘to take necessary and appropriate measures’ to protect patients.
The lawsuit is a class action, meaning it is a legal proceeding in which a group of people with similar legal claims join together to sue another party – though Ms Cashman is the only party named.
A trial by jury has been demanded and the patients are seeking damages for the distress and alleged injuries caused.
HIV and hepatitis are spread via contact with bodily fluids and it is possible to contract them in a hospital setting if medical equipment has not been cleaned or treated properly in between patients.
Geoff Millar, 47, from Salem, who was a Salem Hospital patient to receive a letter, said the hospital blamed the issue on needles for IV drips not being changed.
He told the Gloucester Times the drips were administering anesthesia and the hospital thought they had been used for multiple patients.
‘It was a little nerve-wracking,’ he said.
Mr Millar has now been for a blood test at the hospital and the results were negative for both infections.
However, health experts warn it could be years before symptoms of HIV and hepatitis are triggered and appear.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) symptoms begin like a very bad cold, but can then disappear for years.
The virus preys on cells in the body’s immune system, killing them and eventually causing death from complications linked to a weakened immune system — such as cancer and infections.
Once a death sentence, the disease can now be treated with medications to suppress the virus.
Infections with hepatitis B and C can cause inflammation of the liver, with symptoms including jaundice — yellowing of the skin and eyes — abdominal pain and swelling.
Doctors can treat this infection through the administration of drugs to help suppress the infection.