Public affairs firm sued for libel by hospital involved in nursing home Hep C outbreak

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The North Dakota hospital wrapped in a legal battle over one of the largest hepatitis C outbreaks in United States history has sued a public affairs firm for making false statements about its involvement.

Trinity Hospitals filed the suit in federal court on Monday, arguing that The Markham Group and its employees released “deliberate or reckless” statements meant to convince the public that Trinity caused the outbreak.

Nearly 50 residents of ManorCare of Minot, ND, were infected in the outbreak, which the nursing home blamed on Trinity phlebotomists. In 2016, while litigation in the case was ongoing, a group dubbed the Minot Action Network started a campaign against Trinity to convince it to carry out widespread hepatitis C testing in the community.

Trinity claims the network “aligned almost perfectly with ManorCare's positions” in the litigation, according to court documents. It claims the Minot Action Network, or MAN, was created by Markham. MAN also published a video blaming the outbreak on Trinity and one of its employees who allegedly reused needles on patients, the suit says.

“MAN consistently repeated ManorCare's unfounded allegations against Trinity, and has never acknowledged ManorCare's potential responsibility for the outbreak, notwithstanding the public health authorities' express finding that infection control lapses at ManorCare's facility ‘were likely responsible,'” the lawsuit reads.

A representative for HCR ManorCare declined to comment on the case. A request for comment from The Markham Group was not returned by production deadline Monday.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial for the case, as well as more than $75,000 in damages and legal costs.