Thousands Exposed to Hepatitis C at Denver Hospital

A Denver hospital is alerting up to 4,700 former patients that they were possibly exposed to hepatitis C by an infected surgical technician who has admitted to using unclean needles on patients after stealing their painkillers to feed her drug addiction.

FDA investigators and police say that Kristen Diane Parker, who worked at Rose Medical Center in Denver, has admitted to stealing syringes of the painkiller fentanyl meant for patients, secretly injecting herself in the bathroom, and then using the used needles to inject the patients with a saline solution instead. Parker has hepatitis C, which she has told investigators she likely contracted from sharing dirty heroin needles. She worked at the hospital from October 2008 to April 2009.

An additional 1,200 patients from the Audubon Ambulatory Surgical Center in Colorado Springs are also being alerted. Parker worked there from May 4 to July 1, 2009.

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Parker is currently in federal custody, facing three drug charges. If it can is confirmed that she infected a patient with hepatitis C, she could face more serious charges, including life in prison if someone she infected dies of complications due to the infectious disease.

Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller that is about 100 times stronger than morphine, and very addictive.

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease that can cause liver damage, including liver failure, cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is technically incurable, but very effective treatment has been able to eradicate the disease in some of those who contract it.

The most common means of infection is through injection drug use. The U.S. Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention has estimated that 60% to 80% of all recreational drug users in the United States have contracted hepatitis C from sharing dirty needles. Hepatitis C and other blood borne diseases, like HIV, can also be spread in medical facilities that do not follow the proper standards of medical care or properly sterilize equipment.

Last year, Las Vegas health officials shut down two endoscopy centers that were linked to over 100 reports of hepatitis C caused by technicians reusing needles and vials of medication intended for only one patient. At least 40,000 people treated at the clinic between March 2004 and January 2008 were notified that they may have been exposed to hepatitis and other blood borne diseases.

Earlier this year, about 11,000 veterans treated at three VA clinics in Tennessee, Georgia and Miami were notified that they may have been exposed to hepatitis and HIV infection due to improper use and cleaning of endoscopy equipment used for colonoscopy tests and ear, nose and throat exams. The controversy resulted in congressional hearings last month, which revealed that about half of all VA facilities failed surprise inspections on the proper use and sterilization of endoscopic equipment.

Officials at Rose Medical Center say they do not believe many people were actually exposed to hepatitis C as a result of the Parker’s actions, but they are being cautious by contacting everyone who had surgery during the time period when she was employed. At least nine patients who had surgery at the facility during that time have tested positive for hepatitis C, but it is not yet clear whether they contracted the disease from Parker.

Parker quit after she was caught in an operating room where she should not have been. When she tested positive for fentanyl, the hospital contacted the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

1 Comments

  • Drug-Addicted Hospital Tech Sentenced for Exposing Patients to Hepatitis C - AboutLawsuits.comJanuary 20, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    [...] years in prison after pleading guilty to charges that she stole painkillers meant for patients and infected patients with hepatitis C after she injected with them with a saline solution using her own dirty [...]

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