The nurse has been accused of intentionally infecting two patients at Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup with hepatitis C. The nurse’s attorney says his client has been scapegoated by the hospital after patients became infected by some other means.
Last August, when the first of what could be hundreds of patients were potentially exposed to hepatitis C at a Puyallup hospital, one complained that an emergency-room nurse had been “forcing injectable pain medications” on her, according to the patient’s Tacoma lawyer.
Despite her client’s complaint, attorney Amanda Searle said officials at Good Samaritan Hospital apparently didn’t stop the nurse, Cora Weberg, from continuing over the next several months to interact with patients — including a Puyallup man now infected with hepatitis C who has since filed the first lawsuit related to the possible exposure. He, too, is represented by Searle.
“Our concern is, what did the hospital know and when did they know it,” Searle said in a phone interview Monday. “If this nurse was involved, and she indeed is the source of this outbreak, the hospital certainly knew as early as last summer about the concerns of her medication practices. So, what if anything did they do about it?”
A spokeswoman for the corporate owners of Good Sam, as the hospital is known locally, declined to comment about contentions raised by Searle and her clients.
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“We have not been served with this lawsuit and, therefore, can’t comment on it,” Marce Edwards Olson, communications director for MultiCare Health Systems, said in an email.
Last week, Weberg was arrested on suspicion of intentionally infecting two people with the virus. As of Monday, she had not been charged.
But separately, the Washington state Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission — the board that regulates nursing — announced Monday that Weberg “has been immediately suspended” for allegedly administering tainted doses of hydromorphone and fentanyl to the two patients who later contracted the disease.
Good Samaritan officials issued a public-safety alert last week, when announcing the two patients’ infections had been linked to an employee later identified as Weberg. Hospital officials had said that during an investigation, Weberg had “admitted” to stealing injectable drugs and had also tested positive for hepatitis C. Officials have said they don’t know exactly how Weberg allegedly infected the patients.
Due to the exposure concerns, the hospital also said last week it was notifying 2,600 patients who may have been exposed to hepatitis C or other communicable diseases while receiving injections of narcotics, antihistamines or sedatives during emergency-department visits from Aug. 4, 2017, to March 23, 2018.
About 900 of those patients had been tested as of Sunday, Edwards Olson said.
Neither Puyallup police nor the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office returned calls about the criminal investigation Monday.
Police arrested Weberg Friday at the U.S.-Canada border as she headed for a long-planned trip to Guam with her boyfriend, according to The News Tribune of Tacoma. A preliminary probable-cause statement filed by police alleged Weberg had “intentionally contaminated medicine or another substance with her own blood,” allegedly infected with hepatitis C, and administered the medicine to patients, the newspaper reported.
Weberg has been released from custody, according to her lawyer, Bryan Hershman.
“When an officer makes an arrest but no charges are filed, that’s a good indication of how strong their case really is,” Hershman said Monday. “My client did not stick anyone with a needle. My client did not pass hepatitis C to anyone. In fact, we still don’t even know if she even has Hep. C.”
Hershman said that Weberg has been scapegoated by the hospital after officials there started taking heat about patients who became infected by some other means.
“What better person to blame than a nurse whose had possible psychological problems and purported drug problems,” he said.
Despite the hospital’s statements, Hershman said tests have shown that Weberg “is not genetically related” to the two infected patients confirmed for hepatitis C by the hospital, and therefore isn’t the source of their contamination.
But Searle, the attorney, said Monday that she and her law partner, Jackson Pahlke, now represent at least three other former Good Samaritan patients who have since tested positive for hepatitis C, including the Puyallup man in his 50s, identified only by the initials “R.O.”
In his lawsuit filed in Pierce County Superior Court on Friday, R.O. names MultiCare as the sole defendant, claiming it breached the standard of care when Weberg infected him while he was being treated at the hospital for kidney stones last December.
“R.O. became infected with hepatitis C after being injected with narcotics from a dirty syringe administered by Nurse Cora Weberg,” the suit states. “R.O. now must undergo medical treatment for his injuries and has to live with severe emotional and mental anguish due to the negligence of Good Samaritan Hospital.”
R.O.’s suit also references the complaint about Weberg’s medication practices allegedly made last August by another of Searle’s clients, who the lawyer describes as a Puyallup woman in her 30s who was being treated at the hospital emergency department for back pain at the time.
“She didn’t want any medication, but the nurse told her, ‘Well, sorry, that’s our policy,’ and proceeded to inject them into her IV bag anyway,” Searle said. “My client recalls crying about this, not only because they just completely ignored her protests, but because she felt the nurse did it in a way that was — well, she wasn’t gentle about it, let’s just say.”
After lodging her complaint, Searle said the woman briefly received a phone call from a patients’ advocate acknowledging the complaint but felt “nothing was really done about it.”
Aside from representing Good Samaritan patients who’ve tested positive for hepatitis C, Searle said her firm has received calls from many other patients who are still awaiting results or initially have tested negative. Searle said hospital officials haven’t properly conveyed to the public that even if a patient tests negative, they still could be infected with the disease and must continue to get tested.
Hershman said Monday that complaints against nurses are common, and called the complaint made against Weberg last August by Searle’s client “a red herring.”