Call for additional patient testing in ManorCare hepatitis C lawsuit

Attorneys representing the victims of the largest hepatitis C outbreak in recent history have asked for judge-ordered testing to find additional people who may have been infected.

In a motion filed May 24, attorneys asked a judge to order North Dakota-based Trinity Hospitals Inc. to conduct mandatory testing of all current and former Trinity employees with access to injectable narcotics from 2010 to now. The order also calls for free voluntary testing for all patients who received medical care involving phlebotomy or injectable drugs from Trinity or the hospital's contractors during that time.

The testing is “standard practice among responsible health providers in situations like the hepatitis C outbreak that Trinity has caused,” attorneys wrote in the motion.

A total of 52 people were identified as victims of the 2013 outbreak, including more than 40 residents of a nearby ManorCare Health Services facility. Twenty-one victims joined ManorCare in suing Trinity for the outbreak in March.

Ordering the tests will benefit patients or staff who may be unaware that they have hepatitis C, as well as help ManorCare recover some of its reputation, which was tarnished in the aftermath of the outbreak, plaintiffs' attorneys said.

“The testing that Plaintiffs request is a good first step to help stem the damage to ManorCare's reputation, goodwill, and customer base, by providing more information than is now available about the true roots of the Minot outbreak,” the motion reads.

An original probe into the outbreak tested more than 1,800 people, but it did not determine the exact cause of the outbreak, a North Dakota health department official told the Legal Reader. ManorCare blamed Trinity for the outbreak in an October court filing, stating the contractor failed to train its phlebotomists and ignored suspicions that employees were re-using needles.

In an affidavit filed in late May, Mark Sulkowski, M.D., a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and consultant for ManorCare, said testing in similar hepatitis C cases has ranged from 2,300 patients to more than 60,000.

“It is my opinion that a proper response to a hepatitis C outbreak must include aggressive testing of the universe of potential victims,” Sulkowski wrote. “Due to the potential harm of undiagnosed [hepatitis C] … screening protocol should be implemented as rapidly as possible.”

John Ramar, attorney for Trinity, told the Legal Reader that the hospital complied with the state and federal health officials during the investigation, and that “it appears ManorCare didn't like the conclusions set forth in the report and through their hired expert, attempted to have the conclusions revised, modified or changed.”