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Shore Medical Center in Somers Point has notified some patients that they may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
Shore sent out letters last week saying that patients at the hospital in 2013 and 2014 may have been exposed to the diseases.
“We have contacted all patients who received certain intravenous medication between June 1, 2013 and Sept. 17, 2014,” according to a hospital statement issued Wednesday. “We are providing free testing and support through every step and are partnering with local health department agencies during this testing period in order to be extremely cautious.”
Prosecutors say Shore Medical pharmacist stole morphine, replaced it with saline
A former registered pharmacist at Shore Medical Center was arrested and charged Thursday with the stealing morphine and replacing it with saline at the hospital where he worked in 2014.
The hospital, the state Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working together to investigate whether patients who received intravenous morphine or hydromorphone medications at the hospital between June 1, 2013 and Sept. 17, 2014 contracted the diseases.
Hospital officials said in a statement that patients could have been exposed to the diseases. A former employee and pharmacist at the hospital was recently charged with replacing morphine with saline solution in vials that were to be administered to patients.
An internal investigation at the hospital and an investigation by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office alleged that Frederick P. McLeish had tampered with drugs between July 1 and Sept. 27, 2014.
In its letter to patients, hospital officials say drug tampering may have caused patients to come in contact with an employee’s blood.
The hospital is asking patients who were treated with those drugs at the hospital during that period, as well as a full year prior, to get tested.
Shore Medical Center said that 213 patients have received letters.
Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office detectives arrested McLeish, 53, of Egg Harbor Township, on Jan. 21. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in state prison.
“The Department of Health is working with Shore Medical Center to investigate a potential infection control breach at the hospital,” said Dawn Thomas, state department spokeswoman.
“Although the risk of infection is low, out of an abundance of caution, the Department of Health is recommending that affected patients receive testing for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.”
When Arlene Polmonari, of Atlantic City, received the letter last week informing her that she might have HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C, she said, she was in hysterics.
She grasped in her fist a letter that simply stated that due to her past surgeries, she could have contracted one of the diseases, some that cannot be cured.
Polmonari has been undergoing testing for the past several weeks for an issue involving shortness of breath that has yet to be diagnosed. She said she worried that the reason for her symptom could have been one of the viruses.
“A phone call would have been nicer than this,” Polmonari said. “You know, to soften the blow a little, make people not feel so hysterical about it.”
Polmonari got the letter Feb. 18. After a sleepless night, Polmonari went to get tested the following day. She said she was directed to a Shore Medical testing facility on Shore Road. She said she was initially told that she would have to wait two weeks for her results, but she asked if the process could be expedited. HIV results and hepatitis C were available that day, but she had to wait until Monday, Feb. 22 for the hepatitis B results.
“Thankfully I tested negative for all three,” she said
But what alarms Polmonari, she said, is how long it took at-risk patients to be informed.
“We are talking a year and a half that people could have been exposed and getting sick from this,” she said. “How many people could have brought it home to their spouses or pregnant women to their babies or whatever, and they are just now letting people know?”
Thomas said the hospital and state health department are working with experts from the CDC in the investigation. Shore Medical contacted the state Department of Consumer Affairs about the situation, she said.
Shore Medical has set up a dedicated call center for affected patients and family members who may have additional questions. The call center number included in the letter is 609-653-3900 to schedule testing appointments.