Update: The New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services has informed Exeter Hospital that four additional patients have tested positive for the same strain of the hepatitis C virus associated with the recent outbreak, bringing the total cases to 31, including 30 patients and one employee.
Two months ago, Exeter Hospital was just your basic community non-profit in a town of 14,000 souls not far from the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy, near New Hampshire's coast.
Today, the 100-bed facility is beset by a mushrooming chaos of hepatitis C infected patients, multiple government investigations, at least three class action lawsuits, and a crisis of confidence. The episode has evolved into a cautionary tale of what can happen when a drug-stealing addict is one of your caregivers.
"What we're talking about here is drug diversion. That's healthcare workers doing drugs and getting so hooked on them that they are even stealing them at their worksite," New Hampshire Public Health Director Jose Montero, MD, said in an interview this week with HealthLeaders Media.
With at least one report indicating that nationally, more than 4% of healthcare workers acknowledge some form of illicit drug use, we know that often they are the very same professionals who administer controlled substances, such as anesthesiologists and nurses. "The meaning of that in healthcare quality is clearly huge, Montero says.
Healthcare providers need to learn how to prevent these episodes from harming their ability to provide reliable care, and ruining their long-standing reputations as well, he says.