5 Diabetic Inmates File Lawsuit Against Nurse for Exposing Them to Unsterile Needles

5 Diabetic Inmates File Lawsuit Against Nurse for Exposing Them to Unsterile Needles

Most people with diabetes know the importance of using properly sterilized needles when administering insulin injections. And all nurses should know that information as well. But a recent lawsuit would suggest that not all nurses see the importance of following proper safety protocol when administering injections.

Five inmates at the Pasco County Jail in Florida have filed a class-action lawsuit in the Middle District of Florida against the healthcare contractor responsible for providing healthcare at the facility, as well as two employees. The lawsuit alleges that Rachel McCarthy, a registered nurse employed by Wellpath LLC, failed to use sterile needle practices when injecting her patients with insulin.

McCarthy is supposed to have failed to change needles between vials when giving patients a partial dose from each vial. She injected an HIV-positive patient with a partial dose from one insulin vial and then used the same needle to draw the other part of the dose from a new vial before injecting the patient a second time. This means that the second insulin vial would be contaminated with the HIV-positive patients' blood. The same vial would later be used to treat other inmates with diabetes.

In failing to use sterile needle practices, McCarthy could easily have infected the five inmates and possibly others with HIV or other bloodborne illnesses.

"One or more" inmates submitted grievances after the incident, and the lawsuit claims that McCarthy then admitted to using the same needle in different vials for the entire time she'd been employed at the jail.

Wellpath allegedly then tested only some of the affected inmates for bloodborne illnesses instead of all of them. Post-exposure prophylactic medications to prevent HIV or hepatitis vaccines or boosters were only given to some of the potentially impacted inmates as well instead of to all who may have been affected. Inmates were not told what was happening or asked to consent before treatment.

The lawsuit also blames Renee Bingham, Wellpath’s health services administrator at the jail, for failing to train and supervise McCarthy and other medical personnel and for telling them to keep quiet about the insulin contamination incident.

Judy Lilley, a spokesperson for Wellpath, released a statement saying that McCarthy had been let go but that the company denied the allegations against Bingham. The company claims Bingham was quick to report the allegations against McCarthy to Wellpath and to the proper state authorities.

"All appropriate patient follow-up was provided, including testing and use of prophylactic medications," Lilley said in the statement. "We are not aware of any clinical patient complications."

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has been working with Wellpath to address the issue.

"We are taking the reported complaint very seriously, and will continue to work with Wellpath regarding investigation of this matter and steps to ensure a situation like this does not happen in the future," says spokesperson Amanda Hunter.

None of the plaintiffs of the lawsuit has been diagnosed with any bloodborne illnesses since the allegations were made. However, the lawsuit states that they "reasonably fear that their exposure to contaminated insulin may result in disease."

The inmates have chosen to file a lawsuit on behalf of all patients who have received at least one insulin injection during the time of McCarthy's employment at the county jail, which has been about a year.

"It's unbelievable, and it's truly a public health crisis," says Kevin Conway, a partner at Peiffer Wolf, the law firm representing the inmates. "This could be just such a wide-reaching problem that has potential to spread."

According to the CDC, any healthcare worker who intends to give a patient a partial dose of medication from two different vials must change needles and syringes between vials to avoid contaminating the new vial.

Elizabeth Morey

Elizabeth Morey graduated summa cum laude from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI, where she dual majored in English Literature and Spanish with minors in Writing and Business Administration. She was a member of the school's Insignis Honors Society and the president of the literary honors society Lambda Iota Tau.

Some of Elizabeth's special interests include Spanish and English linguistics, modern grammar and spelling, and journalism. She has been writing professionally for more than five years and specializes in health topics such as breast cancer, autism, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. Apart from her work at GreaterGood, she has also written art and culture articles for the Grand Rapids Magazine.

Elizabeth has lived in the beautiful Great Lakes State for most of her life but also loves to travel. She currently resides a short drive away from the dazzling shores of Lake Michigan with her beloved husband.

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